American Airlines hit with largest penalty ever for tarmac delays

American Airlines on Monday was hit with the largest fine ever imposed for tarmac delays. Federal law prohibits airliners from keeping passengers stuck for three or more hours without a chance to deplane. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Aug. 28 (UPI) -- American Airlines was hit with the largest fine of its kind for keeping passengers waiting on the tarmac without an opportunity to deplane, the Department of Transportation said Monday.

American Airlines faces a $4.1 million penalty for violating federal statutes that prohibit tarmac delays of three or more hours without offering passengers a chance to deplane. The penalty is the largest ever imposed by the department for this violation.

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

The department found that, between 2018 and 2021, the airline let 43 domestic flights sit for "lengthy periods" without offering a deplaning opportunity. In one instance, the Transportation Department said passengers were stuck without food and water, as required by law.

Most of the delays were out of the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, where delays impacted nearly 6,000 flyers during the investigation period.

It's been a difficult year for air travel.

This July, the Federal Aviation Administration said fewer available air traffic controllers had forced carriers to downsize their flight offerings. Thousands of flights were canceled early that month, with some travelers stranded for at least a day as the situation was compounded by inclement weather.

Mechanical issues and labor negotiations created headaches for American earlier this year. The company had no formal response to the fine imposed by the Transportation Department.

The company reported second quarter revenue of $14.1 billion, a 4.7% increase year-over-year and its share price on Monday was largely unaffected by the penalty.