United Airlines was hit Friday with the largest-ever fine for keeping passengers waiting on the tarmac too long.
The U.S. Department of Transportation ordered United to pay $1.1 million for delays that took place at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on July 13, 2012, and issued a cease and desist to the Chicago-based company against future delays.
“It is unacceptable for passengers to be stranded in planes on the tarmac for hours on end,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a release. “We will continue to require airlines to adopt workable plans to protect passengers from lengthy tarmac delays and carry out these plans when necessary.”
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July 13, 2012 saw a number of severe thunderstorms roll through the Chicago area, and United and its United Express code-share affiliate delayed more than 13 flights because of the inclement weather. Some of the delays exceeded the 3-hour cap by just a few minutes. The most egregious delays went as long as 77 minutes past the cut off.
According to the release from the Department of Transportation, their aviation enforcement agency also found that United did not contact airport personnel or other airlines for assistance during the tarmac delays. Additionally, on two United Express flights, the lavatories were inoperable during part of the delays.
O'Hare will pay the government $475,000 in punitive damages; the rest goes toward correcting problems that lead to delays and toward mitigation measures for affected passengers.