United may face fines over new tarmac delay rules
United Airlines operated 4 of the 5 flights during May that were delayed on the tarmac beyond the 3-hour limit mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation
By Julie Johnsson, Tribune reporter
8:28 PM CDT, July 8, 2010
Chicago-based United Airlines will put to the test new rules that threaten airlines with fines of up to $27,500 per passenger for planes that idle on an airport’s tarmac for more than three hours.
United operated four of the five flights in the U.S. during May that were delayed on the tarmac beyond the new limit mandated by the Department of Transportation, including one flight that was delayed for nearly five hours.
Delta Air Lines operated the fifth flight, which took off from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport two minutes after the three-hour cutoff point, according to federal data released Thursday.
Transportation officials will investigate to see if United and Delta violated the new rules before issuing any fines, a process that could take weeks, said DOT spokeswoman Tammy Jones.
The new regulations, which took effect April 29, require airlines to provide passengers on badly delayed flights with food, water and clean lavatories, as well as the ability to get off a plane once it has been stuck on the ground for three hours.
Carriers won’t be fined if planes were delayed for safety and security reasons, or if they were ordered by air traffic controllers not to return to an airport terminal.
After thunderstorms halted takeoffs and landings at Denver International Airport on May 26, all four United flights were diverted to Colorado Springs, Colo., where foul weather caused additional delays, said United spokeswoman Jean Medina. Tarmac delays for the four flights ranged from 3 hours and 10 minutes to 4 hours and 41 minutes, according to DOT data.
“All customers were offered the opportunity to exit the plane and were provided snacks and water as we waited for the weather to improve and air traffic control clearance to safely continue on to Denver,” Medina said.
Delta Flight 2011, which was bound for Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on May 28, was in line to take off from Atlanta as thunderstorms rolled in. After being delayed for two hours, the crew asked to return to the airport terminal. However, air traffic controllers denied the request because of the threat of lightning in ramp areas adjacent to the terminal, said Delta spokesman Anthony Black. The plane waited on a taxiway and took off as the weather cleared, shortly after the three-hour point.
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
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