The Department of Transportation has handed down its first fine to an airline for stranding passengers on airplanes.
In April 2010, following several reports of passengers being forced to sit on planes on the tarmac for hours on end, DOT issued a rule that put a limit on how long passengers would be stuck on a plane. After three hours, passengers must be given the option to get off. The rule applies to planes with more than 30 seats.
In May 2011 American Eagle let 608 passengers in 15 different planes sit on the tarmac at O'Hare Airport in Chicago for three hours and 45 minutes.
American Eagle has been fined $900,000, which ABC News reports is "the largest fine to date in a consumer case not involving civil rights violation."
“We put the tarmac rule in place to protect passengers, and we take any violation very seriously,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We will work to ensure that airlines and airports coordinate their resources and plans to avoid keeping passengers delayed on the tarmac.”
The rule seems to be working. DOT said that in the year following its inception, the airlines reported 20 tarmac delays between three and four hours. Compare that to the 12 months before the rule took effect -- they reported 693 tarmac delays of more than three hours and 105 delays longer than four hours.
JetBlue could be next to face a fine. On October 29 more than 100 passengers were stuck in an airplane in Connecticut for seven hours. The airline could be fined as much as $27,500 per passenger.