A $55,000 fine was levied against Burlingame-based Virgin America by the U.S. Department of Transportation this week for not telling passengers delayed at the gate that they could leave the aircraft.
The order, which was levied by the department’s Aviation Enforcement Office, was for violating federal rules that limit how long an aircraft with passengers aboard may be delayed on the tarmac, according to a Wednesday release from the U.S. Department of Transportation. A Virgin America representative said the infraction is related to an isolated incident when a plane was delayed by severe storm cells.
"This administration believes that consumers have the right to be treated fairly when they fly,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a prepared statement. "Our tarmac rules are meant to prevent passengers from being trapped in aircraft on the ground for hours on end.”
Virgin America was fined for failing to notify passengers in an aircraft delayed at the gate for two hours and 16 minutes at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on July 18, 2012, that they could leave the aircraft prior to its departure for San Francisco.
"This was a technical infraction, related to our communications to our guests, as we did not clearly demonstrate that we communicated every 30 minutes that they had the option to de-plane — even though throughout the approximately two-hour gate delay, the plane remained at the gate and guests had the ability to de-plane to the airport concourse, water and food were distributed and lavatories remained operable,” a Virgin America representative said. "We’ve used this opportunity to reconfirm our established notification policy for aircraft delays at the gate.”
Airlines may not allow tarmac delays longer than three hours on domestic flights and four hours on international flights at U.S. airports without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane. There are exceptions allowed to the time limits. In addition, if a flight is delayed at the gate and passengers are able to leave the plane, a carrier must make an announcement to that effect 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and every 30 minutes afterward, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.