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American Airlines forced to pay customers for long tarmac delays

The Department of Transportation said American Airlines violated its tarmac delay rule and will be ordered to pay millions to some customers.
American Airlines forced to pay back customers for long tarmac delays
Posted at 6:18 AM, Aug 29, 2023

The Department of Transportation is ordering American Airlines to pay $4.1 million in fines for allegedly violating department rules involving lengthy tarmac delays. 

The Department of Transportation requires airlines to give passengers the opportunity to deplane domestic flights stuck on the tarmac for at least three hours. The department said American Airlines violated this rule dozens of times. 

The fine is the largest civil penalty the Transportation Department has levied for violating its tarmac delay rule. Half of the $4.1 million will go to passengers on affected flights. 

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

From 2018 through 2021, the Department of Transportation found American Airlines violated the tarmac delay rule 43 times. The department noted that most of the delays occurred at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. A total of 5,821 passengers were affected by the delays. 

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American Airlines said these delays were the result of "exceptional weather events" and represented a small percentage of the 7.7 million flights during this time. The airline said it has since apologized to the passengers affected. 

"American has committed substantial time and resources to improve its performance on tarmac delays, such as the deployment of Hub Efficiency Analytics Tool (HEAT) to shift arrivals and departures around severe weather to help avoid conditions that can lead to lengthy tarmac delays," the airline said in a statement. "We also built new smart gating technology that reduces taxiway congestion and the time aircraft spend waiting for available gates. The tool uses real-time routing, runway information and other data, along with machine learning, to automatically assign aircraft to the nearest available gate. These efforts are already providing significant benefits to our customers and team members, and we continue to look for innovative ways to further improve."

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What are your rights?

If you're on board a domestic flight stuck on the tarmac for at least three hours (four hours for an international destination), the Department of Transportation requires the airline to provide passengers an opportunity to get off. The Department of Transportation notes, however, that airlines aren't required to let passengers back on the plane and the passenger may be responsible for finding another flight. 

The airline is also not obligated to offload a passenger's bags if they decide to leave. 

Airlines are also required to provide passengers with drinking water and a snack within two hours of a delay, unless it is unsafe to do so. 

The airline must provide passengers with an update on the status of a delay if it lasts at least 30 minutes. 

These rules apply to "covered carriers" who operate at least one airplane with a seating capacity of at least 30 seats. 

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