On January 15, 2014, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) fined Qantas $90,000 for violating federal rules last March by not informing passengers on a delayed aircraft at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) that they had the opportunity to leave the plane as it sat at the gate for an extended period of time with the door open. DOT ordered the carrier to cease and desist from further such violations.
“Airlines may not leave passengers stranded indefinitely aboard an aircraft, whether on the tarmac or at the gate, and passengers have a right to know if they are able to leave the plane,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
“At DOT, we are committed to protecting consumers’ rights when they travel, and will continue to take enforcement action when our rules are violated.”
On March 21, 2013, Qantas flight 008 was scheduled to depart DFW at 10pm en route to Brisbane, Australia. The plane initially pushed back from the gate at 10:41pm, but had to return to the gate three times after receiving mechanical alerts. After the first return to the gate, the plane sat for an hour and seven minutes with passengers on board, and the second time for two hours and two minutes. During both of these delays, the aircraft door was open and passengers could have left at any time, but Qantas personnel failed to inform passengers that they could deplane. The flight was canceled after a third mechanical alert and passengers disembarked at 3:05am.
DOT rules prohibit airlines from allowing their aircraft to remain on the tarmac for over 3 hours for domestic flights, and for over 4 hours for international flights without giving passengers an opportunity to deplane. Qantas violated a provision of the DOT’s airline consumer protection rule requiring that if passengers on a delayed flight have the opportunity to leave the aircraft, the carrier must inform them that they can deplane. Announcements that passengers can leave the plane must come 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and every 30 minutes afterward.