In November, a year and a half after new rules intended to punish airlines for extreme runway delays went into effect—and four years after the series of highly publicized delays that kicked off the regulatory process—the Department of Transportation (DOT) for the first time hit an airline with a small runway fine.
The rules officially allow massive fines for tarmac delays longer than three hours. But while there have been many such delays since April 2010, when the rules took effect, those airlines escaped punishment, largely thanks to loopholes that allow longer delays if weather or safety concerns prohibit disembarking.
American Eagle finally ran afoul of indulgent regulators with a delay of 608 passengers on several queued-up planes that ran 18 minutes over the time limit. The airline was too optimistic about its ability to clear gridlock caused by fog and thunderstorms. Theoretically, those 18 minutes could have cost the airline $16.7 million in fines—$27,500 per passenger for each violation. Instead it will pay a wrist-slap settlement of $650,000, an amount the DOT says is “appropriate” given the small amount of time the airline was in violation of the new rules.
While the federal regulatory process was grinding on, most airlines implemented their own policies regarding excessive delays. Jet Blue, for instance, instituted a four-hour delay maximum immediately after heavily publicized flight delays on Valentine’s Day in 2007.