American Airlines was fined $4.1 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday for allegedly keeping passengers stranded on airport tarmacs for several hours over a three-year period.
The department’s investigation into the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier found that American Airlines had 43 domestic flights from 2018 to 2021 that sat on tarmacs without allowing passengers off the aircraft, The Dallas Morning News reported.
It is the largest fine levied for tarmac delay violations, which was accompanied by a cease-and-desist order, according to the newspaper.
The DOT said that $2.05 million of the fine will be credited to American Airlines for compensation already paid to passengers, the Morning News reported.
According to The New York Times, a majority of the delays occurred at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the largest hub for American Airlines. Other airports where delays occurred included George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, San Antonio International Airport and Ronald Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C., according to the newspaper.
The longest delay occurred in San Antonio in August 2020, when an aircraft carrying 105 passengers sat on the tarmac for six hours, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“This is the latest action in our continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, D.O.T. will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable.”
The 43 flights impacted 5,821 travelers, according to the Morning News. On one flight, passengers were not provided with food or water; during a long tarmac delay, airlines are required to provide passengers with a snack and drinking water no later than two hours after the delay began, according to the newspaper.
On Dec. 26, 2018, thunderstorms at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport led to 10 flights experiencing delays of at least three hours, according to the DOT.
Sarah Jantz, a spokesperson for American Airlines, said in a statement that the carrier had made substantial efforts to reduce tarmac delays.”
“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,” Jantz said. “We have since apologized to the impacted customers and regret any inconvenience caused.”
Jantz told the Morning News that American Airlines is using new strategies to curtail delays, including the use of the Hub Efficiency Analytics Tool (HEAT), to move arrivals and departures around severe weather. The carrier has also built “smart gating technology” that reduces congestion on airport congestion and the time aircraft wait for available gates, according to the newspaper.
In a response to the fine, American Airlines told the DOT that it disagreed that some of the incidents warranted enforcement, The Wall Street Journal reported. The carrier said that a long delay in 2019 in Washington was due to a winter storm that was outside of its control, and that thunderstorms at DFW on Aug. 17, 2021, caused tarmac delays for several airlines.