Southwest Fined $1.6 Million for Violating Tarmac Delay Rule

By Jesse Sokolow on 19 January 2015
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DSC_0826The United States Department of Transportation announced that it fined Southwest Airlines $1.6 million for violating federal rules on tarmac delays.

The DOT said that Southwest failed to offer passengers on 16 planes that were delayed at Chicago’s Midway Airport the opportunity to get off the aircraft within three hours of arrival, and that the carrier did not have enough staff available to implement its Tarmac Delay Contingency Plan.

An investigation by the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that the carrier experienced tarmac delays at the airport that lasted longer than three hours on January 2, and lasting into January 3, 2014.  The airline’s crew scheduling system was malfunctioning on those days, and the carrier had an unexpected shortage of staff.  The lack of adequate ramp-crew staff made it difficult for Southwest to clear aircraft from gates in a timely fashion to accommodate arriving flights. Severe winter weather in the Chicagoland area further contributed to the delays.

The fine is the largest that the DOT has ever assessed an airline for violating the tarmac delay rules.  The largest fines prior to this were $1.1 million in 2012, and $900,000 in 2011.

Under the DOT’s aviation consumer protection rule passed in 2009, carriers are not allowed to have tarmac delays that last longer than three hours on domestic flights at all airports in the U.S. without allowing passengers an opportunity to leave the aircraft.  Exceptions to this rule include safety, security, and air traffic control-related reasons.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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