Airline tarmac delays drop to record low in 2014

Southwest paid the largest tarmac delay fine last month

Only 30 domestic flights in 2014 were stuck on airport tarmacs for more than three hours, a record low, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the latest sign that hefty fines are reducing delays.

Passenger complaints prompted the federal government in 2010 to adopt fines for every domestic flight delayed longer than three hours and for each international flight stalled for at least four hours. Violators can be fined as much as $27,500 per passenger.

In the first full year before the federal government adopted the fines, U.S. airlines reported 868 domestic flights that were delayed longer than three hours. Those delays dropped after the fines started.

In 2013, airlines reported 84 domestic flights that were delayed longer than three hours and 55 international flights delayed longer than four hours.

In 2014, only 30 domestic flights and nine international flights violated the new tarmac delay rules.

Under the federal rule, airlines that strand passengers on domestic flights for three hours or longer must give fliers the option of getting off the plane. The rule offers airlines exceptions for reasons related to safety, security and air traffic control.

"These tarmac delay rules are meant to protect passengers, and it appears that the airlines have gotten the message," said U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Last month Southwest Airlines agreed to pay $1.6 million, the largest fine to date, over storm-related delays of 16 Southwest flights on Jan. 1 and 2, 2014, at Chicago Midway International Airport.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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