American Airlines has been fined $US1.6 million for breaking US rules prohibiting long tarmac delays, the equal highest penalty assessed against an airline for detaining passengers on a plane.
The fine matches a penalty assessed against Southwest Airlines last year for similar breaches.
The Transportation Department's Aviation Enforcement office found that between 2013 and 2015 American airlines allowed 27 flights to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours in Charlotte, North Carolina; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; and Shreveport, Louisiana.
US rules require airlines to give passengers the opportunity to leave the plane if they are delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours. The airlines are also required to provide adequate food and water as well as ensure that toilets are working. Exceptions are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons.
The Department found that delays in Charlotte during a snow storm on flights operated by US Airways and its regional affiliates had involved a failure to properly assess the situation.
Heavy snow and rain also contributed to the long tarmac delays in Dallas-Fort Worth but the Department found American did not adequately prepare for the weather and failed to take appropriate measures to prevent multiple extended tarmac delays.
The long tarmac delay in Shreveport was at least partially due to the carrier’s mismanagement of personnel and resources, it said.
“Our tarmac rule is meant to prevent passengers from being trapped in aircraft on the ground for hours on end,” US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “We will continue to take enforcement action as necessary to ensure passengers are not kept delayed on the tarmac for lengthy periods of time.”
The airline received discounts to the fine of $US602,000 for compensation provided to passengers on the affected flights and $US303,000 for the costs of setting up and operating surface management and surveillance systems at Charlotte and Dallas-Fort Worth.
American said it was pleased the matter was resolved.
“It’s worth noting that a large portion of the settlement is related to a winter weather event that occurred nearly four years ago in Charlotte,’’ a spokesman said. “Regardless, every situation is a learning opportunity and we remain committed to taking care of our customers.”
The fine comes as the new Trump administration is expected to dump a range of new and planned regulations aimed at making airlines more transparent.