Aviation & Space Law

Record fine of up to $1.6M imposed on Southwest over planes sitting for hours on tarmac

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In the stiffest penalty yet imposed over passenger-filled airplanes stranded for hours on the tarmac during stormy weather, the U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday announced a fine of up to $1.6 million against Southwest Airlines.

However, as part of an agreed consent decree, the government agreed to credit against the fine $431,000 spent by Southwest to upgrade its aircraft-monitoring equipment at Midway Airport in Chicago, USA Today reports. Another $300,000 will be imposed only if there is another violation within a year of a federal regulation requiring airlines to allow domestic passengers to deplane after three hours on the ground.

The government will get $600,000, and $269,000 will be paid to passengers on the 16 planes grounded at Midway that exceeded that time limit during a snowstorm in early January 2014.

“While Southwest employees worked tirelessly to get arriving aircraft to gates as quickly as possible, ultimately our efforts fell short in the face of challenging operational conditions,” said the airline in a written statement provided to USA Today.

“While we are disappointed that the government would seek additional money after the enormous penalties imposed on Southwest by Mother Nature during the January 2014 winter storms, we nonetheless appreciate the Department of Transportation giving Southwest credit for the substantial and costly remedial steps the airline voluntarily took before this consent order was issued.”

See also:

ABAJournal.com (2009): “Stuck on Snowy Airport Tarmac Nearly 12 Hours, Passengers Weren’t Covered by New Deplaning Rule”

ABAJournal.com (2011): “Freak NE Snowstorm Strands Air Passengers on Tarmac, Testing New DOT Regs, and Closes Courthouses”

ABAJournal.com (2011): “American Eagle Fined $900K in First Penalty Levied re Passengers Waiting Over 3 Hours on Tarmac”

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