US weighs fines for tarmac delays

U.S. regulators say they will decide
whether to fine United Airlines up to $27,500 per passenger for leaving
passengers in idling planes more than three hours.

Chicago-based United operated four of
the five U.S. flights delayed in May beyond the new limit on tarmac time set by
the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Delta Air Lines operated the fifth
flight, which took off from Atlanta 2 minutes after the three-hour cutoff
point, federal data indicated.

The United delays occurred May 26
after thunderstorms halted take-offs and landings at Denver International
Airport, United spokeswoman Jean Medina said. Tarmac delays for the four
flights ranged from 3 hours, 10 minutes to 4 hours, 41 minutes, DOT data

“All customers were offered the
opportunity to exit the plane and were provided snacks and water as we waited
for the weather to improve and air traffic control clearance to safely continue
on to Denver,” Medina said.

The prospect of steep fines, which
took effect in April 29, reduced delays, officials said.

Tammy Jones, a Transportation
Department spokeswoman, said investigators would determine if United and Delta
violated the new rules before issuing any fines. That could take weeks, Jones

The regulations require airlines to
provide passengers on long-delayed flights food, water and clean lavatories.
Airlines also are required to let passengers get off planes stuck on the ground
three hours or more.

However, airlines will not face fines
for flights delayed for safety and security or if pilots are ordered by air
traffic controllers not to return to an airport terminal.

Delta spokesman Anthony Black said
Flight 2011, bound for Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport May 28, was in
line to take off from Atlanta when thunderstorms began. The crew asked to
return to the terminal after two hours’ delay but air traffic controllers
denied the request because of the threat of lighting, Black said.