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American Airlines Slapped With Record $4.1 Million Fine For Trapping Hundreds of Passengers On Delayed Flights For Hours

American Airlines Slapped With Record $4.1 Million Fine For Trapping Hundreds of Passengers On Delayed Flights For Hours

airplanes parked on a runway

American Airlines has been slapped with a $4.1 million fine for trapping hundreds of passengers onboard heavily delayed airplanes for hours at a time and not giving them the opportunity to deplane.

The civil penalty is the largest ever fine of its kind levied by the Department of Transportation after the agency ruled that AA had unlawfully kept hundreds of passengers on 43 affected flights onboard and against their will.

U.S. law requires airlines to have contingency plans in place for lengthy tarmac delays, and in most cases, airlines are required to allow passengers the opportunity to deplane once the delay has hit a certain length.

In the case of domestic flights, passengers must be given the opportunity to deplane after a tarmac delay of three hours or more, and for international flights, a tarmac delay of four hours should trigger the opportunity for passengers to deplane.

The only exception to this rule is if the airline can prove that allowing passengers to deplane would jeopardize safety or security or if air traffic control tells the pilot that deplaning passengers would significantly disrupt airport operations.

In the 43 cases investigated by the DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection over a four-year time span between 2018 and 2021, American Airlines failed to prove that either of these exceptions applied.

As a result, federal officials ruled that AA should have allowed passengers the opportunity to deplane and, in some cases, also have provided them with snacks and water.

Most of the delays were caused by severe weather, especially severe thunderstorms at AA’s main hub in Dallas Fort Worth, and the airline told investigators that it had devoted considerable resources to reducing tarmac delays in recent years.

AA disputed whether a January 13, 2019, flight should have been subject to enforcement action because it was trapped on a snow-covered taxiway at Washington Reagan Airport during a severe winter storm.

The DOT wasn’t persuaded by AA’s defense, but the agency credited the airline $2.05 million for compensation American Airlines had already voluntarily paid out to passengers who had been trapped on the affected flights.

The latest tarmac delay fine dwarfs the previous record $1.9 million fine that United Airlines was hit with in September 2021 for delayed flights over a five-year period.

American Airlines did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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