Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines Given Largest U.S. Fine for Tarmac Delays

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Southwest Airlines Co.  has agreed to pay a $1.6 million fine for keeping passengers locked inside planes for stretches of more than three hours after landing. This is the largest-ever civil penalty for violating tarmac-delay rules.

The incidents occurred during a snow storm in the Chicago area on Jan. 2 2014. The 16 flights were stuck on the tarmac for an average of 3 hours 39 minutes, with the longest delay being more than 4 hours. The regulatory limit of three hours was hereby exceeded. Malfunctions of the airline’s crew scheduling system, a staff shortage and severe weather contributed to the delays, the agency said.

“Airline passengers have rights, and the department’s tarmac delay rules are meant to prevent passengers from being stuck on an aircraft on the ground for hours on end,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

“While Southwest employees worked tirelessly to get arriving aircraft to gates as quickly as possible, ultimately our efforts fell short in the face of challenging operational conditions,” the carrier said in an e-mailed statement.

Passenger Compensation

Approximately $700,000 have already been paid as compensation to passengers. Southwest must pay $600,000 more in fines within 30 days of the Jan. 15 consent order. The company agreed to pay the fine to avoid litigation, according to the settlement.