DOT 04-15
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Contact:  Caitlin Harvey
Tel.:  (202) 366-4570
U.S. Department of Transportation Fines Southwest
$1.6 Million for Violating Tarmac Delay Rule

Largest Civil Penalty Assessed Against a
Carrier for Violating Tarmac Delay Rules
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
today announced that Southwest Airlines violated federal rules involving lengthy
tarmac delays last January.  Southwest
failed to offer passengers on 16
aircraft delayed at Chicago Midway International Airport (Midway) the
opportunity to deplane within three hours of arrival and failed to have sufficient staff available
to implement its Tarmac Delay Contingency Plan. 
DOT fined Southwest $1.6 million and ordered the airline to cease
and desist from further violations.  This
is the largest civil penalty that the Department has assessed a carrier for
violating the DOT’s tarmac delay rules. 
“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,” said
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. 
“We have aggressively enforced, and will continue to aggressively
enforce, our tarmac delay rule to ensure carriers have adequate resources to
minimize passengers’ exposure to lengthy tarmac delays.”
Under the Department’s
aviation consumer protection rule finalized in 2009, airlines may not allow
tarmac delays longer than three hours on domestic flights at U.S. airports without giving passengers an opportunity
to leave the plane.  Exceptions are
allowed only for safety, security, and air traffic control-related reasons.
An investigation by DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office found
that on January 2 into January 3, 2014, 16 Southwest flights experienced
lengthy tarmac delays at Midway in excess of three hours.  Southwest experienced a malfunctioning of its
crew scheduling system and an unexpected shortage of staff, particularly the
carrier’s ramp-crew, which inhibited the carrier’s ability to clear aircraft
from Southwest’s gates in a timely manner to accommodate arriving flights.  A severe winter weather event at Midway contributed
to the tarmac delays.
Prior to this order, the largest civil penalties that the
Department assessed carriers for violating its tarmac delay rules were $1.1
million in 2012 and $900,000 in 2011.  The Department assessed a larger
civil penalty against Southwest because the lengthy tarmac delays involved more
flights and impacted more passengers than the tarmac delay events in 2011 or
2012 (neither of which involved Southwest) . 
To date, including this order, the Department has issued 17 orders assessing
a total of $5.24 million dollars in civil penalties for violations of its tarmac
delay rules. 
The consent order is available on the internet at, docket DOT-OST-2015-0002.