The Transportation Department’s new and much-ballyhooed tarmac-delay rule has turned to out to be all threat and no fine thus far.
The DOT acknowledged this week that it had yet to levy any penalties in any of the dozen cases since May involving tarmac delays of at least three hours.
Under the new rule, enacted April 29, violations are subject to a fine of up to $27,500 per passenger per flight.
Such fines could cost airlines millions of dollars, but so far the violations have triggered nothing more than a warning letter or two, the DOT said.
The only fines the DOT has levied during that time for tarmac delays were $12,000 against United and $10,000 against Pinnacle for filing inaccurate reports in May showing that they had broken the three-hour rule when in fact they had not.
As for violations since May, the DOT said it "is continuing to investigate several incidents."
The agency said, "Some investigations have been closed because they occurred under circumstances excepted by the tarmac delay rule, such as instances involving safety, security or air traffic control operations issues. In other cases, the tarmac delays violated the three-hour rule by only a few minutes, and DOT determined the carrier had worked to comply with the rule." Some carriers received warnings, the DOT said.
The DOT declined to specify which flights were still being investigated, which were determined to be exceptions and which ones had prompted warning letters.
The first monthly statistics for May were released in July as part of the DOT’s monthly airline on-time report.
"There were five tarmac times of three hours or more in May," the DOT reported.
Four of the five were United Airlines flights heading to Denver May 26 that were diverted to Colorado Springs before continuing their flights.
Later, the DOT said a subsequent investigation found that "four of the five May flights were misreported by the airline."
For June, the DOT reported only three flights with tarmac delays of more than three hours: all United flights departing Chicago’s O’Hare airport on June 18, "a day in which the Chicago area experienced a severe thunderstorm."
In July, the DOT said, airlines again reported only three flights with tarmac delays of more than three hours.
And again, Chicago was the culprit: three American Eagle flights departing O’Hare on July 23 were delayed due to another severe thunderstorm.
There was only one flight in August with a tarmac delay of more than three hours, a United flight departing San Juan on Aug. 5 that was diverted.
The number of flights with tarmac delays of three hours or more jumped to four in September, the DOT reported.
The problem day was Sept. 22 for the following flights: Southwest from Philadelphia to St. Louis; US Airways from New York Kennedy to Charlotte; Pinnacle from Kennedy to O’Hare; and Delta from Philadelphia to Detroit.