Southwest Airlines hit with record $1.6M fine for stranding planes on tarmac

Posted at 5:30 PM, Jan 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-19 11:19:34-05

The Department of Transportation sacked Southwest Airlines with a record $1.6 million penalty Thursday for keeping passengers stuck on the airplane for too long.

The fine is due to 16 Southwest flights that were stuck on the tarmac at Chicago Midway International Airport on Jan. 2, 2014. Passengers must be let off the plane within three hours of landing.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Southwest did not have enough staff and failed to have a contingency plan during a severe weather event.

“Airline passengers have rights, and the department’s tarmac delay rules are meant to prevent passengers from being stuck on an aircraft on the ground for hours on end,” Foxx said in a statement.

The previous record fine was $1.1 million in 2012 against United Airlines. More than $5 million in fines have been levied since the Department of Transportation created the tarmac delay rule in 2009.

This is Southwest’s first tarmac delay fine. Southwest said that “Mother Nature” already imposed penalties during the snowstorm:

“While Southwest employees worked tirelessly to get arriving aircraft to gates as quickly as possible, ultimately our efforts fell short in the face of challenging operational conditions,” Southwest Airlines said in a statement.

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk.