Frontier Airlines Fined $1.5 Million For Long Tarmac Delays In Denver By Department of Transportation

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The U.S. Department of Transportation has fined Frontier Airlines $1.5 Million for violating rules on excessive tarmac delays and capturing passengers for hours on the tarmac without taking off or returning to the gate.

The law currently states that the maximum time for a tarmac hold is three hours after which airlines are obliged to release passengers back into the terminal if take off isn’t possible.

This particular situation dates back to last years winter when passengers got trapped inside the plane at Denver Airport, Frontier Airlines hub city.

You can follow the story at USA Today (access here).

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Friday it fined Frontier Airlines $1.5 million for keeping passengers stuck on a dozen aircraft on the Denver airport tarmac for more than three hours amid a snowstorm last December.

But the department said it will forgive $900,000 of that because of compensation the airline paid to the passengers.

The delays came after a storm dropped 8 inches of snow at Denver International Airport on Dec. 16-17. Passengers were held aboard 12 planes sitting on the tarmac for more than the three-hour limit set by law, the Transportation Department said.

The department said Frontier did not have enough staff and did not delay or divert enough flights to alleviate congestion at airport gates. On one occasion, the airline used an open gate to load passengers on a departing flight instead of unloading a waiting plane that had already arrived, the department said.

Frontier spokesman Richard Oliver said the airline revised its winter weather procedures and worked with the Denver airport on a system to get passengers off planes more quickly.

The airline told the Transportation Department that the snowstorm was worse than predicted and that it had taken steps to relieve the delays. The airline said it was fully staffed and called in extra workers from its Denver headquarters to help at the airport. Frontier told the department it spent nearly $1.2 million on compensation and flight vouchers to passengers.

The Transportation Department said the $1.5 million fine was the second-highest amount imposed on an airline for tarmac delays. Southwest was fined $1.6 million in 2015 and United the same amount in 2016.

So essentially the fine is US$ 600,000 after ‘discounting’ the fine by $900k for already paid compensation? Somehow I feel this doesn’t have much teeth.

Here is a news report about the winter situation from last December:

I’m sure the passengers help on board these planes didn’t have a very good time. Keep in mind Frontier is a low cost airline so they won’t have meals or excessive catering to stretch the time for people. Also many of these flight have just arrived so whatever they had in catering was surely depleted quickly.


Until these fines are getting really tough and frequent airlines won’t be taking regulation seriously and we’ve seen this in many areas not just tarmac delays but also in regards to overbooking and customer service. The way that passengers are treated in the U.S. without have any clear cut passenger rights in terms of service and compensation is deplorable.

Sure after things go sour passengers can complain to the Department of Transportation which we often advocate but that doesn’t always result in appropriate compensation. The DOT has the power for enforcement action as far as the law is concerned. They can fine the airline if the carrier violated the law (as in this case) but that doesn’t necessarily give justice to the passengers affected.

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