First airline is fined for stranding passengers on tarmac


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American Eagle Airlines has agreed to pay a $900,000 fine for stranding hundreds of passengers on several delayed flights, marking the first penalty issued under a rule adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation in April 2010.

The Transportation Department rule forbids airlines from keeping passengers on a delayed domestic flight for more than three hours or four hours for an international flight. To avoid a fine, airlines must offer stranded passengers food and water and the option to return to a terminal. The maximum fine is $27,500 per passenger.


The fine against American Eagle, a regional affiliate of American Air Lines, stems from lengthy delays at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on May 29. A total of 15 planes, carrying 608 passengers, were stuck on the tarmac for three hours or more.

Because of heavy fog and thunderstorms on that day, air traffic controllers canceled departures for several hours. However, an investigation by the Transportation Department found that American Eagle continued to land flights later that day, creating a backlog of flights. In many cases, American Eagle didn’t have enough pilots and crew to operate planes that were loaded with passengers and waiting at the gates, according to Transportation Department records.

‘We put the tarmac rule in place to protect passengers, and we take any violation very seriously,’ U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

The tarmac delay rule, spurred by several notorious cases of flight delays, including the plight of passengers stranded for nearly six hours on a plane in Rochester, Minn., in 2009, offer exemptions for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons.

Under the consent order, American Eagle must pay $650,000 within 30 days, and up to $250,000 can be paid through refunds, vouchers and frequent flier miles offered the passengers on the delayed flights.


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-- Hugo Martin