A fine in the amount of $1,600,000 was lodged today (January 15, 2015) against Southwest Airlines by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for its violation of tarmac delays a year ago, in January, 2014. This is the largest civil penalty that the Department has assessed a carrier for violating the DOT’s tarmac delay rules.
According to the DOT press release, Southwest failed to offer passengers on 16 aircraft delayed at Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) the opportunity to deplane within three hours of arrival and failed to have sufficient staff available to implement its Tarmac Delay Contingency Plan.
It was a perfect storm:
– January 2-3, 2014
– 16 Southwest flights experienced lengthy tarmac delays at MDW
– Delays were over 3 hours
– Southwest experienced a malfunctioning of its crew scheduling system
– Southwest experienced an unexpected shortage of staff
– Southwest was unable to clear aircraft from Southwest’s gates in a timely manner to accommodate arriving flights
– Severe winter weather hit MDW, contributed to the tarmac delays
Previous tarmac delay fines by DOT:
– $1.1 million in 2012 against United Airlines for lengthy tarmac delays that took place at Chicago-O’Hare International Airport (ORD) on July 13, 2012.
– $900,000 in 2011 against American Eagle Airlines at ORD as well on May 29, 2011.
To date, including this order, the Department has issued 17 orders assessing a total of $5.24 million dollars in civil penalties for violations of its tarmac delay rules.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx made the related statement:
Airline passengers have rights, and the Department’s tarmac delay rules are meant to prevent passengers from being stuck on an aircraft on the ground for hours on end. We have aggressively enforced, and will continue to aggressively enforce, our tarmac delay rule to ensure carriers have adequate resources to minimize passengers’ exposure to lengthy tarmac delays.
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.
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