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After trapping passengers on the tarmac, American Airlines gets a $4.1 million fine

US federal regulators said the penalty is the largest-ever fine of its kind

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American Airlines flight above the Capital.
Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg has advocated for airline passenger compensation. Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

Federal regulators fined American Airlines $4.1 million after passengers were delayed on the tarmac for over three hours more than 40 times. It’s the largest-ever federal fine for excessive airline delays, according to the US Department of Transportation (DOT).

The carrier owes the US government payment for half the fine within the next month. The other half will be credited to American Airlines for compensation paid to delayed passengers.


According to the investigation that led to the fine, American kept 43 domestic flights stuck on the tarmac for over three hours between 2018 and 2021, impacting 5,821 passengers, mostly at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

Federal law dictates that airline passengers be given the option to deplane after three hours. Also, during one of the delays, passengers weren’t provided with food and water as required by law.


In an email to Quartz, American Airlines confirmed the fine and said the delays were due to “exceptional weather events.”

“The flights represent a very small number of the 7.7 million flights during this time period,” the airline added. “We have since apologized to the impacted customers and regret any inconvenience caused.”

Quotable: Buttigieg promises to hold airlines “accountable”

“This is the latest action in our continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers. Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, DOT will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable.”

—Pete Buttigieg, US secretary of transportation, in a press release

New oversight of the airline industry, by the digits

$2.5 billion: Total the DOT has promised to refund consumers affected by delays and other inconveniences, as part of a larger plan to protect air travelers.


2022: Year the DOT levied the largest annual series of fines against the airline industry in the history of the consumer protection office. All told, it has refunded more than $1 billion to passengers since the pandemic.

10: Domestic airlines that now guarantee meals and free rebooking for inconvenienced travelers after pressure from the White House. There are no US federal laws requiring airlines to compensate delayed passengers.


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