Thursday, January 15, 2015

The DOT fines Southwest Airlines $1.6 million over runway delays

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-3H4 (22944/1138) N304SW smokes the mains on Rwy 25L at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS/KLAS) on November 7, 2007.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

The U.S. government on Thursday fined Southwest Airlines Co $1.6 million in what it said was the biggest civil penalty levied against an airline so far for violating rules barring long waits for passengers in planes on the runway.

The Department of Transportation said Southwest had failed to abide by the rules last January when 16 of its aircraft were delayed on the tarmac at Chicago Midway International Airport. Passengers were not given the chance to get off the planes after three hours, and the airline did not have enough staff in place to avoid the delays, it said.

"We have aggressively enforced, and will continue to aggressively enforce, our tarmac delay rule to ensure carriers have adequate resources to minimize passengers' exposure to lengthy tarmac delays," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

Federal rules adopted in 2009 bar airlines from holding passengers on a runway for more than three hours without offering them a chance to leave, although exceptions for safety and security are allowed.

The $1.6 million penalty is the largest to date out of the 17 such fines it has issued, the department said. It previously fined United Airlines $1.1 million in 2012 and American Eagle Airlines $900,000 in 2011, but officials said they fined Southwest more given the number of planes and passengers involved. All three incidents were in Chicago.

According to the department, Southwest's crew scheduling system malfunctioned between Jan. 2 and Jan. 3, 2014, triggering a staff shortage that, together with a severe winter storm, led to the delays.

Representatives for Southwest could not be immediately reached for comment.

(Susan Heavey - Reuters)

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