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Southwest Airlines Socked with Record-Breaking Fine After Tarmac Delays, Caused By Massive Snowstorm

15 Jan 2015, 6:14 pm

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(Photo credit: Flickr/James Lee)

The United State Department of Transportation has slapped Southwest Airlines with a record-breaking $1.6 million fine, for tarmac delays that kept passengers on aircraft for hours. The fine accounts for 16 Southwest planes that sat on the tarmac at Chicago Midway Airport — for more than three hours — during a winter storm that pummeled the Chicagoland area in January 2014.

A U.S. DOT rule, finalized in 2009, puts a three hour cap on tarmac delays for domestic flights. After three hours, the airline must allow the passengers the option to deplane.

“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,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement.

According to the U.S. DOT, “Southwest experienced a malfunctioning of its crew scheduling system and an unexpected shortage of staff, particularly the carrier’s ramp crew, which inhibited the carrier’s ability to clear aircraft from Southwest’s gates in a timely manner to accommodate arriving flights.”

Data from the National Weather Service in Chicago shows Midway Airport saw as much as seven inches of snow on Jan. 2, 2014. Snow was heavy at times, aiding the in long delays that lead to the DOT’s massive fine.

“The $1.6 million penalty includes a $600,000 payment to the government and $269,000 in compensation to passengers, according to the seven-page consent decree between the department and airline.

But the agreement also credited $431,000 to Southwest for acquiring and operating better equipment to monitor aircraft position at Midway, and merely threatened an additional $300,000 fine if Southwest violates the tarmac rule again within a year,” USA Today reports.

This isn’t the only large fine levied since the DOT rule was instituted in 2009; United Airlines was hit with a then-record-setting fine of $1.1 million dollar fine, in 2013. Since the start of the program more than $5.24 million dollars in fines have been levied against airlines, for violation of tarmac delay rules.

Meteorologist Alan Raymond

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