American Airlines fined a record-breaking $4.1 million for lengthy tarmac delays affecting nearly 6,000 passengers

  • The Department of Transportation fined American Airlines $4.1 million on Monday for lengthy tarmac delays.

  • It's the largest fine an airline has ever been issued for violating federal tarmac delay rules.

  • The agency said 43 American flights had tarmac delays of over 3 hours from 2018 to 2021.

American Airlines was fined $4.1 million for violating federal laws that prohibit airlines from keeping domestic flights on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving passengers the opportunity to deplane, the US Department of Transportation said Monday.

It's the largest fine an airline has ever been issued for tarmac delay violations, the DOT said. The move is part of the agency's recent push for airline passenger rights.

"Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, DOT will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable," US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

About half of the $4.1 million fine will be used to compensate affected passengers.

Between 2018 and 2021, a total of 43 domestic American Airlines flights sat on the tarmac for more than three hours, impacting 5,821 passengers, an investigation by the DOT's Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) found. On one of the flights, the airline did not offer passengers food and water within the first two hours as required, the agency said.

The longest tarmac delay cited in the investigation was 6 hours and 3 minutes on August 16, 2020, when American diverted 14 flights from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport to San Antonio International Airport due to severe thunderstorms.

A spokesperson for American Airlines said the tarmac delays cited by the DOT were a result of "exceptional weather events" and represent a small percentage of the 7.7 million flights during this time period.

American Airlines has invested in technology to improve its performance on tarmac delays such as the Hub Efficiency Analytics Tool (HEAT) to shift arrivals and departures around severe weather and smart gating technology that reduces taxiway congestion and the time aircraft spend waiting for available gates, the spokesperson told Insider.

"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," they added. "We have since apologized to the impacted customers and regret any inconvenience caused."

This isn't the first time American Airlines has been fined for this exact violation, either. The company had to pay a $1.6 million fine in 2016, also for violating the USDOT's tarmac delay rule.

While there is no law requiring US airlines to compensate passengers for flight delays, in May, the White House announced plans to propose a rule that would require airlines to pay passengers cash compensation, and cover the cost of meals, hotels, and flight rebooking in the case of controllable cancellations or delays.

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