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  • American Airlines Fined $4.1 Million For Unlawful Tarmac Delays
    Posted On: Aug 30, 2023

    The fine is part of the Department of Transportation's wider work on strengthening passengers' rights.


    •  The US Department of Transportation has fined American Airlines $4.1 million for breaching the tarmac delay rule on domestic flights, with 43 flights found to have violated the rule between 2018 and 2021.
    •  American Airlines claims that the delays were due to exceptional weather events and only represent 0.001% of their flights, apologizing to the affected customers and outlining measures they have taken to improve tarmac delays.
    •  The DOT has introduced enhanced passenger protections, including compensation for stranded passengers and increased transparency on ancillary service fees.

    The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued an unprecedented fine of $4.1 million to American Airlines for violating the rule that prohibits tarmac delays of over three hours on domestic flights without passengers being given the opportunity to deplane.

    Following an investigation, the DOT uncovered 43 American Airlines flights that had breached the rule between 2018 and 2021. The majority of the delays occurred at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), the carrier's largest hub. None of the valid exceptions, including safety and security reasons, were applicable in these cases, and on one of the 43 flights, passengers were not provided with food and water, as required.

    The US Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, highlighted the fine as one of a series of measures being put in place to protect passengers' rights, saying,

    “This is the latest action in our continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers. Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, DOT will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable.”

    The response from American Airlines

    When approached by Simple Flying for comment on the fine, American Airlines responded by saying,

    "American always strives to deliver a positive travel experience to our customers and takes very seriously our responsibility to comply with all Department of Transportation requirements. While these delays were the result of exceptional weather events, the flights represent a very small number of the 7.7 million flights during this time period. We have since apologized to the impacted customers and regret any inconvenience caused."

    The airline went on to outline some of the measures it has put in place regarding tarmac delays, adding,

    "American has committed substantial time and resources to improve its performance on tarmac delays, such as the deployment of Hub Efficiency Analytics Tool (HEAT) to shift arrivals and departures around severe weather to help avoid conditions that can lead to lengthy tarmac delays. We also built new smart gating technology that reduces taxiway congestion and the time aircraft spend waiting for available gates. The tool uses real-time routing, runway information, and other data, along with machine learning, to automatically assign aircraft to the nearest available gate. These efforts are already providing significant benefits to our customers and team members, and we continue to look for innovative ways to further improve."

    In total, 5,821 passengers were affected by the delays. According to the oneworld carrier, the 43 flights that were found to have breached the rule on tarmac delays represent just 0.001% of the flights operated by American Airlines and its regional partners in the period 2018-2021.

    Enhanced protections

    The rule that was breached by American Airlines is just one of the measures that have been put in place recently by the US Government to enhance protections for passengers. Earlier this year, the DOT brought in a new rule requiring airlines to cover expenses for meals, hotels, and rebooking when they are responsible for passengers being stranded.

    This may be taken one step further by requiring airlines to offer compensation for delays and cancelations that are within their control, similar to the European Union's EU261 regulation. Currently, no airline in the US offers cash compensation in such situations, and only Alaska Airlines and JetBlue offer passengers travel credit for cancelations or delays of over three hours.

    Buttigieg also called on airlines to introduce fee-free family seating, and in March 2023, the DOT launched a dashboard allowing passengers to easily see which airlines provided the service free of charge. In addition, new legislation requires airlines to be more transparent with their ancillary service fees, which means that any fees charged for checked or carry-on baggage, for example, must be visible the first time the ticket price is displayed.

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