First Airline Fined Under Flight Delay Regulations, Four Years After Someone Decided We Needed Flight Delay Regulations


A year and a half after new rules that were supposed to punish airlines for extreme runway delays went into effect—and four years after some highly publicized delays that kicked off the regulatory process—the Department of Transportation has hit an airline with a small fine for the first time. Where would we be without regulators looking out for our safety and comfort?

The rules ban delays of longer than three hours, and while there have been many, many such delays since April 2010, the Department of Transportation declined to go after those airlines because there was always a pretty good reason for keeping a bunch of miserable cattle people stuck on the plane—usually weather or safety concerns, both of which are loopholes built into the regulations.

And American Eagle tried hard to loop through those holes:

American Eagle said it has revamped procedures to deal with tarmac delays since the May 29 incident but that it didn't want to unload the affected passengers because it didn't want to expose them "to high noise and a poorly lit environment."

The airline finally ran afoul of regulators with a delay of 608 passengers on several queued up planes that ran a whopping 18 minutes over the allotted time. Under the official rules, that 18 minutes could have cost airlines $16.7 million in fines. Instead, the airline will pay a fine $650,000 and—contrary to what I wrote in my initial coverage of the rules—the passengers themselves will take home a little dough as well.

NEXT: ObamaCare's Incredible Steps

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  1. Unwinding the airline mess, caused entirely by government regulators, is nigh-on impossible. This is a problem with special laws for the airlines; any other transportation industry that made the kind of promises and pulled the kind of shenanigans that they did would have been creatively destroyed by the unfettered market. Instead, we get sad but necessary fines like these, because these dinosaurs of industry are nothing more than corporate welfare whores.

    1. Don’t you know that if an airline goes bankrupt, all of its aircraft, pilots, and maintenance personnel disappear in a puff of magical smoke, never to be seen or heard from again?


      1. Never let the magical smoke out.

  2. I don’t get this at all. Aren’t delays often out of the hands of the airlines entirely? Doesn’t the government often contribute to delays? What about the contributions of Mystery Security Theater 3000? Can’t the market handle this by people avoiding airlines with bad reputations?

    1. I had a similar thought. There are two ways that I can see that the government can reduce flight delays: by requiring airlines to track and disclose delays to consumers, or by imposing fines. The former might actually make headway toward its stated goal, but it lacks the advantage of boosting government revenue.

      1. While even disclosure laws can be ridiculous and useless, they’re much less offensive to me in theory than other types of regulations.

        1. Like I said, this is a sticky wicket. In a normal world, no transportation industry could get away with locking people in a confined space and refusing to let them leave whenever they wanted.

          I had a very bad day with the airlines yesterday (American, to be exact) so my Schadenfreude might be coming out, but airlines get to play this big lucrative corporate welfare game, so they have to play by the rules.

          SLD: de-regulate it all, of course.

          1. My understanding is that the airlines have to keep you on the plane after they close the gate because the FAA rules state that deboarding the plane loses the plane’s slot in the take-off line.

      2. There are two ways that I can see that the government can reduce flight delays:

        Or, government (at all levels) could get out of the way, allow gates and landing slots to be auctioned, so the proceeds could be used by liability-averse and revenue-friendly private airport owners to upgrade their airports to allow quicker turnaround.

    2. Doesn’t the government often contribute to delays?
      Pretty much, yes. But government cannot possibly be asked to compensate anybody for the delays they cause, for the good of all. Evil corporations exist for that.

    3. I was recently stuck in the customs line at YVR for almost four hours. I think I’m gonna sue Canada.

      1. Your comment needs to be posted in both English and French.

    4. Doesn’t the government often contribute to delays?
      exactly. And why are airports held harmless? The Jet Blue incident was a case of a plane on the ground but UNABLE TO GET TO A GATE, yet the carrier takes the heat.

  3. On that day, 608 passengers were stuck on 15 arriving planes beyond the three-hour limit as they waited for gates to open up or an opportunity to reach the terminal via bus.

    That’s what they get for flying on an airline that can’t even make a henley in my size.

    1. Wait, you want more Don Henleys? ONE WAS ENOUGH

      1. One was too many.

        1. I’ve had a rough flight and I hate the fuckin’ Eagles, man.

          1. Just don’t stay at the Hotel California, dude.

            1. That’s the one with colitis, right?

              1. Hey man! There’s nothing wrong with a little colitis… (unless you ever want to join the military).

                1. The girl with colitis goes by.

            1. Are you saying The Dude is David Allen Coe?

              1. Well, I’m quite sure DAC has peed on a few rugs in his day.

                You’re A Great American, David Allan Coe

      2. Yesterday found me reduced to listening to Jefferson Starship and now Don Henley? Fuck you, Warty. And fuck me, too, for that sick, twisted part of me that secretly likes All She Wants To Do Is Dance.

        1. Here, I’ve had this stuck in my head for a few days. Good luck getting it out of your head.

        2. Here, I’ve had this stuck in my head for days. Good luck getting it out of your head.

          1. Fool, Bizarre Love Triangle is clearly the New Order go-to.

  4. I thought airlines delayed flights for, well, liability as much as safety reasons. If they let passengers go in technically unsafe conditions, and some jackass gets hurt, couldn’t he sue the airline?

    1. It’s not the delay that’s the problem, it’s leaving people stuck on the plane during the delay that’s the problem.

  5. $250,000/608 = $411 each

    so practically a free fare for the massive convenience of crossing the country in 5 hours.

  6. Anyone else see the Ghostbusters scene in their head: “We got one!!” Cue fire bell.

  7. Let the market decide how to punish American Eagle. I was stuck on the tarmac a few years ago with these assholes, and I will never fly with them again. Seriously the worst airline ever. JetBlue on the other hand, is a delight. That’s who gets my business.

    1. Except Jet Blue has pulled that same stunt time and again.

      1. I think airlines are like cellphone companies, whichever one you deal with the most sucks the most.

        1. Well, since the government has limited competition from foreign competitors, you don’t have many choices. They all suck. I last got screwed by Delta.

  8. Under the official rules, that 18 minutes could have cost airlines $16.7 million in fines.

    Actually, it was the 3 hours and 18 minutes that cost them the money. If they were only delayed 18 minutes, there wouldn’t have been a fine. It’s not like 3 hours is a tight window to get through.

    1. But if they were 18 minutes faster there would have been no fine at all.

  9. Actually, the airlines have been deregulated. The airports not so much. Or air traffic control. And it’s those actors that are primarily responsible for these ridiculous delay times.
    And the weather, but you can’t fine God.

    1. Airlines have not been deregulated. One example is the domestic flight protectionism. Also, as long as infrastructure, namely airports, are publicly subsidized, governments get to play favorites.

  10. Those who fly internationally may notice that at several major airports, it is routine to both load and unload on the tarmac without benefit of a jetway. Somehow, this does not cause any problems. You get on the waiting bus and it takes you to the terminal. Done.

    1. I’ve taken the shuttle bus both to and from a plane at Laguardia.

  11. Where would we be without regulators looking out for our safety and comfort?

    According to a Cannuckitard coworker, we just need another law. Seriously that’s what he says whenever I point out a government regulatory failure.

    We were talking about precisely this issue a couple of weeks ago. I suggested that letting customer sue the airlines, or even filing criminal kidnapping charges, would be a better solution. He vehemently disagreed, saying that there would be no guarantee that the plaintiff would win and sufficient damages awarded, and that what we really needed was another law.

    It’s like government is a religion to these people or something…

    1. Yes, government, as currently practiced, is only a symptom, and not the disease.

    2. It’s like government is a religion to these people or something
      not “or something”; it IS religion, the statist religion..sometimes known as the church of the aggrieved and offended.

  12. KMW, does alt-text offend you?

  13. There are about a million reasons why airlines are delayed. In my experience, the most common reason people are going to be held captive on an airplane for 3 hours is traffic congestion and/or weather. The problem comes in dealing with multiple govt agencies (FAA,TSA,local airport authority,etc) that have their own protocol which is different at every airport. Add in being stuck in line in which there may no escape and you have a recipe for disaster. To make it worse, if you lose your slot heading to jk,dca,ord,etc there’s a good chance you’re not going get it back on the same day. Also, under the 3 hr dot law, all you have to do is taxi back and pop open the door to reset the clock.

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