The Department of Transportation (DOT) just handed American Airlines a massive fine in connection to how long the carrier made passengers wait on planes idling on the tarmac.
In a press release, the Secretary Pete Buttigieg-led agency said the fine against American Airlines amounted to $4.1 million. The hefty penalty came as part of a consent order issued Monday by the DOT for dozens of flights in which American Airlines allegedly breached the DOT’s rule on tarmac delays.
More than $2 million of the $4.1 million fine has already been distributed to passengers as compensation that the airline gave out in connection to the incidents, resulting in a credit for half of the fine, according to the DOT.
The DOT accused American Airlines of letting 43 flights at airports in the U.S. "remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without providing the passengers on those flights with an opportunity to deplane," according to the consent order. Of the incidents the DOT identified, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport saw the largest number of them.
That airport is one of American’s hubs in the U.S., and the city of Fort Worth is home to the company’s headquarters, according to its website.
The 43 flights that the DOT said lingered on the tarmac for times that exceeded the rules happened in a time frame between 2018 and 2021. The delays involved more than 5,800 travelers, according to the agency’s press release.
In the consent order, it said American Airlines "respectfully disagrees that certain of these tarmac delays warrant enforcement action under the extreme circumstances presented."
The DOT described the penalty for American Airlines as the "largest fine ever issued for tarmac delay violations."
In addition to having a three-hour limit for U.S. flights sitting on the tarmac without giving passengers an option to get off the plane, airlines have to serve food and water within two hours of the start of the delay, according to the consent order. The DOT says American Airlines did not do so in one of the instances.
"American Airlines 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," the carrier said in a statement to FOX Business about the action from the DOT. "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 company has "committed substantial time and resources to improve its performance on tarmac delays," including 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" and building "new smart gating technology that reduces taxiway congestion and the time aircraft spend waiting for available gates," American Airlines said.
Buttigieg linked the $4.1 million fine to the DOT’s "continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers" in the agency’s press release.
Across the first two quarters of the year, American said it and its regional partners have flown some 976,000 flights.