Wednesday, November 25, 2009
After years of successfully warding off federal passenger rights legislation and getting state-based initiatives invalidated under the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act, the airlines haven't overcome one enforcer: the Department of Transportation. Yesterday, the DOT levied $175k in fines to three carriers--including Continental Airlines--for the high-profile stranding of 47 passengers earlier this year. See Airlines Fined for Stranding Passengers, Wall St. J., Nov. 25, 2009, at D2 (available here). According to the DOT:
These precedent-setting enforcement actions involve consent orders that reflected a settlement by the carriers of violations alleged by DOT's Aviation Enforcement Office. They are the first enforcement orders punishing carriers for extended tarmac delays, as well as the first time a carrier acting as a ground handler for another airline has been punished for failing to properly help passengers leave an aircraft during an unreasonably long tarmac delay.
"I hope this sends a signal to the rest of the airline industry that we expect airlines to respect the rights of air travelers," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "We will also use what we have learned from the investigation to strengthen protections for airline passengers subjected to long tarmac delays."
Press Release, U.S. DOT, DOT Issues Precedent-Setting Fines for Rochester, MN Tarmac Delay Incident (Nov. 24, 2009).
Interestingly, neither the news story nor the official press statement indicated which regulation(s) the airlines were alleged to have violated. It is also not clear to what extent (if any) the DOT will take weather conditions or the country's antiquated air traffic control system into account when determining whether or not to impose penalties on airlines which experience delays. With the holiday travel season set to begin and the usual round of delays expected, the airlines have to be less than enthused about the DOT's new enforcement zeal.