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United Airlines fined US$1.9m for ‘largest’ tarmac delay violation

written by Isabella Richards | September 27, 2021
United Airlines Boeing 767 (Wikimedia)

The US Department of Transportation (DoT) has fined United Airlines US$1.9 million for violating tarmac delay laws.

According to the government department, it is “the largest fine issued” in history for tarmac delays.

The investigation was run by the Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) and found the Chicago-based carrier violated the laws on twenty-five flights from 2015.

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Under DOT laws, large airlines are prohibited from allowing domestic flights to remain on the tarmac longer than three hours, and international flights for more than four hours.

According to the consent order, United failed to adhere to the contingency plans for lengthy delays for 20 domestic flights and five international flights.

All aircraft remained on the tarmac for longer than the permitted time and the DOT said the delays impacted a total of 3,218 passengers.

For any exempted delays – such as safety, security or air traffic control reasons – airlines are required to provide food and water for passengers.

“The carrier also failed to have sufficient resources to implement its contingency plan for lengthy tarmac delays,” said the DOT.

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The consent order was served on 24 September, and United Airlines said they are “committed to full compliance”.

“While United enters freely into this settlement with the Department, it does not agree with the Department’s description of the flights in this order,” the carrier said.

“United believes there is also a tension between the rules and operational decisions to position flights to take advantage of windows of opportunity to get the passengers to their ultimate destination.”

The airline said the consent order covers over five years, and only 25 of almost 8 million flights have occurred during the time of the warranted enforced action.

“With regard to some of the flights in this order, United respectfully disagrees with the Department that enforcement action is warranted,” United said.

The rule prohibiting long tarmac delays on domestic flights was enforced in 2010, and a year later the law expanded to include international flights at US airports.

The last significant fine was served to American Airlines (US$1 million) and Delta Air Lines (US$750,000) in late 2019 for also violating long tarmac delay rules.

Despite the carrier’s response, the OACP said it “carefully considered” the facts and concluded the airline was responsible for violating the laws.

US$950,000 of the penalty is required to be paid in 30 days after the order and US$750,000 will be credited to United for passenger compensation.

The last US$200,000 will be credited to United for its costs in developing a “diversion management tool” for the improvement of its contingency plan.

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