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Consumers Benefit as the DOT Enforces Tarmac Delay Rule

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American Airlines was fined $900,000 today in one of the largest consumer protection fines enacted by the U.S Department of Transportation (DOT), marking the first time the organization levied fees in association with the tarmac delay rule.

The fees are from an incident on May 29, 2011 in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport when 15 American Eagle flights landed at the airport and were then delayed on the tarmac for over three hours.

With a total of 608 passengers on 15 flights, American could have been subjected to fees of up to $27,500 per passengers for a total fine of $1,670,000. Instead, the airline is required to pay $650,000 within 30 days in fees that will go to the general U.S. Treasury fund. In an unexpected consumer-driven shift, the airline must also pay an additional $250,000 in refunds, vouchers and miles to the delayed passengers.

Surprisingly, American Eagle is the only airline that had lengthy delays at O’Hare on May 29. This incident lead to American Eagle becoming worst offender this year in terms of tarmac delays—having 16 delays of 3 hours or more in the past year on record. American Airlines had twice as many long tarmac delays as Delta Air Lines, the second worst offender.

The DOT’s tarmac delay rule is now thought to be a success. There have been only 20 long tarmac delays in the past year, in comparison the 693 tarmac delays of the prior year. However, it is worth noting that the number of canceled flights is now at a 10-year high.

Following the completion of the May 29 investigation, the DOT is looking into the October 29 incident at the Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Connecticut, where a JetBlue plane was stranded on the tarmac for over 7 hours.

American Airlines was also involved in October’s Bradley International Airport delay when one of their flights from Paris was diverted to Hartford and held on the ground for more than seven hours. American noted that problems arranging U.S. Customs clearance for passengers contributed to the October delay.

By Lily J. Kosner for

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Related links: MSNBC, Business Week, USA Today