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money justiceA few weeks ago, we blogged about three planes that were left stranded on the tarmac for more than seven hours in Hartford. So today, admittedly, we felt a pang of satisfaction when we learned that the U.S. Department of Transportation has slapped a major fine on an airline for, lo and behold, leaving passengers stuck on the tarmac.

According to the Associated Press, American Eagle, a regional carrier operated by American Airlines, was fined $900,000 for weather-induced tarmac delays of more than three hours on 15 flights that arrived in Chicago on May 29. This fine includes damages to be paid to the fliers who were inconvenienced. Up to $250,000 of the $900,000 fine can be credited to passengers in the form of refunds, vouchers or awards miles. There were 608 people onboard the stranded flights.

This is the first tarmac-delay fine to be imposed by the Department of Transportation since the federal agency initiated new passenger protection laws in April 2010; those rules state that passengers stuck on the tarmac on a domestic flight for more than three hours must be offered the chance to deplane. Any airlines that fail to comply will face penalties of up to $27,500 per passenger. (To learn more, read Airline Passengers Get New Bill of Rights.)

A government-issued fine for passenger inconvenience is a fresh change for an industry in which petty fees and crummy customer service are de rigueur. But whether or not the $900,000 fine will serve as a warning for the airlines and save future fliers from the torments of epic tarmac delays remains to be seen. In How Will the DOT’s New Airline Passenger Rights Affect You?, Ed Hewitt suggests that some airlines might simply preemptively cancel more flights in order to avoid having to pay steep penalties for multi-hour tarmac delays. Writes Hewitt, “Clearly not everyone is sold on the tarmac delay rules; if cancellations really are higher as a direct result, then the problem is just being moved around, not solved. However, few will argue with the notion that multi-hour strandings with no relief, no recourse and no basic human necessities is a worthwhile trade-off.” And indeed, according to CNN Travel, cancellations are up since the passenger rights regulations took effect.

What’s your take? Did the airline get what it deserved — or should the government do more to protect passengers? Sound off in the comments.

— written by Caroline Costello

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5 Responses to “Passengers Get Payback for Tarmac Delays”

  1. jc says:

    This is definitely a step in the right direction, but I think the amount to go towards the passengers should have been higher. It only averages out to about $411 a person, which is probably about enough to refund them. For that much time on the tarmac, they deserve a little more compensation.

  2. drea says:

    who get the rest of the money??

  3. A says:

    Airlines get away with such horrible and overpriced service, anything that’s done in favor of the consumer is worthwhile. I agree this small amount of compensation isn’t enough, and that it’s a step in the right direction. It’s strange how an industry that plays such a large role in our regular lives hasn’t received stricter penalties and regulations when the incompetence of its major players is seen on a regular basis.

  4. Common sense and customer service are not usually practiced by the airlines, but basic rights must be insisted upon. Being lied to or held captive against our will is just NOT acceptable. We need to get our rail system restored as one of many incentives for airline improvement Competition for your dollar may have more effect than complaint.

  5. Joe G. says:

    So let me see if my math is still up to par.
    The airline pays $900,000, the 608 passengers can receive UP TO (not saying they will) a gross payout of only $250,000 while GIVING $650,000 to the U.S. Treasury! WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

    This means the passengers MIGHT get as much as $411 each while the government stands to make as “little” as $1069 on each passenger or $1480 for each passenger if the government decides to keep it all! Also, who exactly decides how much the passengers will get paid and what are those rules and conditions? I guess it’s done with magic pixie dust to determine the passenger’s pain and suffering compensation and not in a COURT OF LAW.

    Why in God’s name is the government profiteering off the misery of the passengers and where exactly do you think the airlines will get that money from? They will get is from higher fares and claiming bankruptcy like American Airlines is doing right now, thus leaving US the TAXPAYERS to pick up the tab AGAIN!

    Must be nice to be the government, profit off others misery then make the victims pay for the “administration” of justice. UNREAL!!!! Corrupt America at its finest.

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