American, Delta Receive Heavy Fines for Tarmac Delay Infractions

Mar 1, 2019

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American Airlines and Delta Air Lines are paying the price for keeping travelers waiting.

The United States Department of Transportation fined the two carriers Thursday for exceeding tarmac delay limitations between 2015 and 2018.

The DoT requires airlines to offer passengers the opportunity to deplane at US airports after a plane has waited three hours on the tarmac for domestic flights, and after four hours of tarmac wait time for international flights. Exceptions to the time limit are limited to safety, security or air traffic control-related issues.

American received a $1 million fine for tarmac delay infractions on 13 flights between December 2015 and January 2017. Delta was fined $750,000 for 11 flight delays between January 2017 and February 2018, seven of which resulted from a computer systems outage in late January 2017, which halted operations at the airline’s Atlanta hub for several hours.

Despite the hefty fines, neither airline will have to pay the full amount. The DoT credited $450,000 toward American’s financial penalty in recognition of compensation that had already been paid out to passengers on the affected flights. Similarly, Delta also received a $450,000 credit for passenger compensation payouts in the form of cash reimbursements, SkyMiles and vouchers toward future travel, as well as for expenses incurred in setting up a backup data center to prevent future computer outages.

After accounting for the credits, American will have to pay the DoT $550,000, while Delta owes a net total of $300,000.

A Delta spokesperson told TPG that the airline reiterates its apology to customers affected by the tarmac delay infractions, and that “Delta continually makes adjustments to processes and procedures and has already implemented key learnings.”

American released a similar statement to TPG, stating that the delays were the result of exceptional weather events dating as far back as 2015. “We apologized to those who were impacted by these tarmac delays and have put procedures in place to help better accommodate our customers when inclement weather occurs.”

TPG research shows that 2018 was a record year for lengthy tarmac delays, with 244 documented delays between January through November; December data is not yet available, so was not included in the calculations.

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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