The Department of Transportation in 2012 leveled more than $3.6 million in fines against airlines for violating various consumer rules, including a regulation prohibiting airlines from keeping passengers on the tarmac for more than three hours.
The 49 consent orders issued during the year include a pair handed down in late December and top the previous high set in 2011. That year, the department issued 47 orders and more than $3.2 million in fines.
On Wednesday, the Department of Transportation announced a $150,000 fine against Panamanian carrier Copa Airlines. The airline in June kept passengers on a Panama-bound flight on the tarmac at JFK Airport for five hours and 34 minutes and didn’t offer food for more than four hours, according to the DOT.
The DOT also said a “contingency plan for tarmac delays, posted on (Copa’s) website, failed to include a number of assurances required by DOT rules.”
The government also levied a $55,000 fine against Virgin America Airlines. Virgin in July didn’t notify passengers on a San Francisco-bound flight that was delayed at a gate at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport for two hours and 16 minutes that they could leave the aircraft before it departed, according to the DOT.
“We do take this isolated incident seriously – and we’ve used this opportunity to reconfirm our established notification policy for aircraft delays at the gate,” The Los Angeles Times quoted Virgin as saying in a statement.
In addition to the fines, issued through the DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office, the government ordered the carriers to cease and desist from further violations.
“This Administration believes that consumers have the right to be treated fairly when they fly,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “Our tarmac rules are meant to prevent passengers from being trapped in aircraft on the ground for hours on end, and we will continue to work with airlines and airports to make sure that air travelers are treated with the respect they deserve before, during and after their flights.”
With the tarmac delay rule, airlines can only keep passengers waiting on the tarmac for three hours before they must let passengers disembark. Within two hours, airlines must provide passengers with “adequate” food and water and they must also “maintain operable lavatories.”
The three-hour limit applies to domestic flights and allows for some exceptions, including safety or security and if returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.
Under a series of regulations that took effect in August 2011, airlines are required refund baggage fees for bags that are lost during transport. Airlines must also “prominently disclose all optional fees on their websites” while passengers who are bumped from flights are entitled to greater compensation.