First Fine For Ramp Delay

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American Eagle has been fined $900,000 for holding passengers on the ramp for more than three hours, the Department of Transportation said on Monday. This is the first time a fine has been assessed since the "tarmac-delay rule" went into effect in April 2010. American Eagle, a regional carrier affiliated with American Airlines, kept 608 passengers on board 15 flights for delays of up to 3 hours and 45 minutes at O'Hare International Airport on May 29. "We wanted to make sure the penalty was sufficient enough to send a message to other airlines that our first enforcement sets a precedent, and that these are serious matters," DOT Secretary Ray LaHood told The New York Times. It could have been worse -- under the law, the airline could have been fined $27,500 for each passenger, totaling $16.7 million for the violation.

Under its agreement with DOT, the airline must pay $650,000 within 30 days, and up to $250,000 can be credited for refunds, vouchers, and frequent-flyer mile awards. The airline also was ordered to "cease and desist from future violations" of the rule. The DOT says since it enacted the rule, only 20 delays longer than three hours have been reported, and none were more than four hours long. However, a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office showed an increase in flight cancellations since the implementation of the rule. To try to address the problem, the DOT and FAA announced they will hold an industry forum on Nov. 30 to find better ways to handle aircraft diversions during the coming winter weather. "During severe weather situations, we want to do everything we can to make sure passengers are flown to airports that are ready and prepared and where passengers can get off the plane quickly," said LaHood.

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