Aviation News

January 3, 2013

DOT Fines Copa And Virgin America For Tarmac Delays

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Virgin America jet sits on a rainy tarmac at SFO.

The US Department of Transportation starts the year with nearly an extra $100,000 in the bank thanks to tarmac delay fines issued against Copa Airlines and Virgin America. Both incidents took place last summer but the penalties were announced on Wednesday.

Copa was hit with a $150,000 charge over a flight in June that left passengers taxiing around the tarmac at New York’s JFK International Airport for 5 hours and 34 minutes without food or water. The DOT says that Copa broke three rules in the process: Passengers must not be held on a plane for more than 4 hours on international flights, those passengers must hydrated and fed within 2 hours of pushback and the airline also failed to report the incident to the DOT. When the DOT finds out about tarmac delays from passengers rather than the airline, as they did in this case, the agency tacks on extra fines.

A July Virgin America flight got pinched for a delay at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Their penalty: $55,000. Unlike the Copa flight, the Virgin A320 remained at the gate for over 2 hours before pushing back, with the boarding door and jetway remaining open. However, passengers were never advised that they were permitted to deboard the plane, as required every 30 minutes under DOT rules that apply to such circumstances. When the flight finally did leave the gate, it sat on the ramp for at least 2 more hours

As is customary in such cases, both airlines will pay roughly half of their assessed fines so long as they don’t commit another violation in the following year. In the Virgin case, the airline was also ordered to distribute $75 vouchers to all 126 affected passengers. Both airlines pledged to take steps to prevent such occurrences in the future.

While these fines were announced on January 2, they were actually delivered to the defendants in late December. With these fines included, the DOT set a new record of $3.6 million in fines against airlines, according to The Consumerist. The old record of $3.3 million was set in 2011, the year tarmac delay rules first took effect.

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