By Samantha Bomkamp, Tribune reporter
United Airlines has been fined $1.1 million by the Department of Transportation for more than a dozen lengthy flight delays on the same day at O’Hare Inernational Airport last year.
It’s the largest fine assessed by the government since a rule aiming to limit long delays went into effect in 2010. Still, it’s far less than the maximum. Under the rule, airlines can be fined up to $27,500 per passenger if a flight is stuck for more than three hours.
The 13 affected United flights were all stuck on the tarmac on July 13, 2012, a day that severe thunderstorms and lightening hit the Chicago area. The storms caused massive traffic disruptions at the airport.
The delays by United and the regional airlines that fly under the United Express banner lasted as little as three hours and two minutes to four hours and seventeen minutes.
The rule requires airlines to give passengers the opportunity to get off the plane if takeoff is not imminent within three hours of doors first closing at the gate.
The DOT said that while United had a contingency plan for tarmac delays, it didn’t implement the plan on the day in question. DOT also said the Chicago-based airline’s plan was inadequate to account for weather emergencies where there are often many planes on the runway and few open gates.
The Transportation Department’s enforcement office also said United failed to contact airport personnel or other airlines for help during the situation. Making the situation worse, DOT said that two of the planes’ bathrooms were not working during part of the delay.
United will pay the government $475,000; the remainder of the fine covers payment for affected passengers and “significant corrective actions by United to enhance future compliance,” according to a statement by the DOT.
United said in a statement that it is “committed to complying with the tarmac delay regulations and we continue to improve our procedures while maintaining the safety of our customers and co-workers.”