WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined Frontier Airlines $1.5 million for violating the Department’s rule prohibiting long tarmac delays. The airline was ordered to cease and desist from future similar violations.
Of the $1.5 million assessed, $900,000 will be credited to Frontier for compensation provided to passengers on the affected flights and also passengers on other delayed flights. The $1.5 million fine represents the second highest amount assessed against an airline for violating the tarmac delay rule, following $1.6 million fines assessed against American Airlines in 2016 and Southwest Airlines in 2015.
An investigation by DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that on December 16-18, 2016, Frontier allowed 12 domestic flights at Denver International Airport to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without providing passengers an opportunity to deplane. The long tarmac delays on these 12 flights occurred during and after a large snowstorm in Denver.
Under DOT rules, U.S. 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 without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane. Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons. The rules also require airlines to provide adequate food and water, ensure that lavatories are working and, if necessary, provide medical attention to passengers during long tarmac delays. U.S. airlines are also required to have adequate resources to implement their tarmac delay contingency plans, such as having sufficient staff to accommodate flights during irregular operations.
The Department found that Frontier failed to properly adjust its operations in response to the snowstorm and resulting gate congestion to avoid the long tarmac delays. Frontier failed to properly assess the gate situation during the height of the snowstorm and continued to experience gate availability issues and a ground staff shortage after the storm had passed. Frontier failed to have adequate resources at Denver to accommodate the additional aircraft on the ground at the airport. Moreover, Frontier failed to delay, divert, or cancel a sufficient number of flights scheduled to arrive at Denver, even though it was aware of the conditions at Denver, to allow the carrier to recover and reduce the probability of flights experiencing long tarmac delays. In addition, Frontier could have mitigated or prevented the lengthy tarmac delays if it had accepted services offered by the airport.
The consent order is available at www.regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2017-0001.
The Department has launched an airline passenger microsite to make it easy for travelers to understand their rights. The site can be viewed here: https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/flights-and-rights.