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United Fined $1.1 Million For Runway Delays
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People who fly frequently in part because of so many cheap travel options, such as cheap airplane tickets, discount hotel rooms, and cheap vacation packages, will likely be pleased to learn that United Airlines has been fined a record $1.1 million for over a dozen runway delays that left passengers stuck in grounded planes for hours, in some cases without working bathrooms.
The delays occurred on July 13th, 2012 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport when severe thunderstorms and lightning caused several ramp closures.
The reason this is good news is because airline industry behavior tends to be financially motivated and now that the government is finally financially penalizing an airline for excessive runway delays, future delays will hopefully occur that much more rarely.
U.S. airlines are prohibited by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) from allowing domestic flights to sit on a runway for over three hours at U.S. airports without giving fliers the opportunity to exit the plane. 13 United and United Express flights remained on the runway for more than three hours on July 13th.
Some planes were only over the limit by only a couple of minutes while others were more than an hour over the maximum time allowed. Bathrooms on two United Express flights stopped working. Over 900 passengers were affected by the delays and given no chance to deplane.
In reviewing these delays DOT observed “It is unacceptable for passengers to be stranded in planes on the tarmac for hours on end. We will continue to require airlines to adopt workable plans to protect passengers from lengthy tarmac delays and carry out these plans when necessary.”
Although United had a contingency plan for dealing with excessive runway delays, the DOT determined that the airline did not implement its plan during these delays and further that the plan was inadequate.
United claims that it attempts to prevent runway delays whenever and wherever possible. United commented “We are committed to complying with the tarmac delay regulations and we continue to improve our procedures while maintaining the safety of our customers and co-workers.”
United will only have to directly pay the government $475,000 within 30 days with the difference going to reimburse United for the $185,000 it paid to the passengers impacted by the delays and $440,000 for improvements United will make at O’Hare International Airport.
Previous to this fine, the government was either not fining airlines for runway delays or was giving out very low fines.
DOT rules state that the government can penalize the airlines up to $27,500 per passenger for airlines that violate the runway rules, which would have totaled over $25 million in this case.
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