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DOT Fines United Airlines for Violating Tarmac Delay Rule

Friday, September 24, 2021

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined United Airlines $1.9 million for violating federal statutes and the Department’s rule prohibiting long tarmac delays.  The airline was also ordered to cease and desist from future similar violations.  This is the largest fine issued by the Department for tarmac delay violations.  

An extensive investigation by the Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) found that between December 2015 and February 2021, United allowed twenty domestic flights and five international flights at various airports throughout the United States to remain on the tarmac for a lengthy period of time without providing passengers an opportunity to deplane, in violation of the Department’s tarmac delay rule.  The tarmac delays affected a total of 3,218 passengers.

Under the DOT tarmac delay rule, airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats are prohibited from allowing their domestic flights to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours at U.S. airports and their international flights to remain on the tarmac for more than four hours at U.S. airports without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane.  The rule prohibiting long tarmac delays for domestic flights took effect 2010 and was expanded to include international flights in 2011.  An exception exists for departure delays if the airline begins to return the aircraft to a suitable disembarkation point in order to deplane passengers by those times.  An exception to the time limit is also allowed for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons.  The rule also requires airlines to provide adequate food and water, ensure that lavatories are working and, if necessary, provide medical attention to passengers during long tarmac delays.

DOT’s aviation consumer protection website makes it easy for travelers to understand their rights.  The page on tarmac delays can be found here.  Consumers may file an airline complaint with the Department here.

The consent order is available at