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Fri, Sep 01, 2023

American Airlines Incurs $4.1-Million DOT Fine

Investigators Cite 43 Violations of Tarmac Delay Rule

The U.S. Department of Transportation has levied a record $4.1-million fine against American Airlines (AAL) for unlawfully holding passengers aboard delayed aircraft for excessively long periods of time.

American Airlines was determined to have repeatedly violated the DOT's Tarmac Delay Rule (Second Final Rule on Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections-EAPP #2) which sets forth U.S. air-carriers—barring a limited number of exceptions germane to safety and security—may not hold domestic flights on airport tarmacs for more than three-hours. International flights may be held no longer than four-hours. Moreover, in such instances as delays surpass two-hours, U.S. air-carriers are obligated to provide enplaned passengers water and snacks. Aircraft cabins are required by law to be maintained at comfortable temperatures, and passengers must have access to operable toilets and necessary medical care.  

The fine assessed against American Airlines is the largest civil penalty yet issued for violations of the DOT’s Tarmac Delay Rule. Furthermore, passengers illegally detained aboard AAL flights are collectively owed more than $2.5-billion in delay-related refunds.

The DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection determined that between 2018 and 2021, 43 domestic American Airlines flights sat on airport tarmacs for periods of time exceeding those codified in the Department’s Tarmac Delay Rule. The airline’s culpability was compounded by its crews’ overwhelming failures to provide passengers food or water—as specified in the rule.

The majority of the delays—which affected some 5,800 AAL passengers—occurred at DFW.

Of the 43 violations identified by DOT investigators, none were found to meet the Tarmac Delay Rule’s exception criteria.

In a statement, controversial U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg remarked: "This is the latest action in our continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers. Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, DOT will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable."

To the subject of the delays and the hefty fine occasioned thereby, American Airlines contended: "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."

Remarkably, the explanation of the Tarmac Delay Rule set forth on the DOT’s website ( states:

If an airline offers me the opportunity to get off the airplane during a tarmac delay and I choose to get off, is the airline required to let me back on the airplane?

  • No.  Passengers should be aware that if they choose to get off the airplane during a tarmac delay, airlines are not required to let them back on the airplane. The flight may take off without them and passengers may be responsible for finding another flight.
  •  If passengers decide to exit the aircraft during a tarmac delay and the aircraft eventually takes off for its intended destination, the airline may not be required to offload any passenger’s checked bags before the plane takes off. Passengers will need to contact the airline about returning their checked luggage at a later time.


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