On the final day of the year, the U.S. Department of Transportation levied fines against two airlines that kept passengers stranded on delayed flights, pushing the number of violations issued against airlines in 2012 to a record.
The federal agency recorded 49 violations in 2012, totaling $3.6 million in fines, with the final two coming against Copa Airlines of Panama and California-based Virgin America. The previous high number of fines came in 2011, when the agency levied 47 violations, totaling about $3.3 million.
The agency issued a fine of $150,000 against Copa Airlines for leaving passengers stranded on a plane at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for five hours and 34 minutes in June on a flight bound for Panama. The agency said passengers were not offered food until more than four hours into the delay, in violation of federal rules.
Virgin America was fined $55,000 for keeping passengers on a flight in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for more than two hours without notifying them that they had the option of returning to the terminal, also a violation of federal rules.
In a statement, Virgin America said, "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."
New rules establishing fines for keeping passengers stuck on domestic flights delayed on a tarmac took effect in April 2010. Rules for international flights took effect in 2011.
Four of the 49 fines issued last year were violations of the so-called tarmac delay rules, said Transportation Department spokesman Bill Mosley.
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