DOT Fines Caribbean Airlines

gavelCaribbean Airlines, a carrier based in Trinidad and Tobago, violated federal rules last August by not providing passengers with an opportunity to leave a plane that was delayed on the tarmac at New York’s JFK Airport for more than four hours, the Department of Transportation (DOT) reports.

In addition, the carrier failed to provide customers with food and water until almost four hours after the plane left the gate during the tarmac delay. DOT fined Caribbean Airlines $100,000 and ordered the carrier to cease and desist from further violations.

“Passengers have rights when they fly, including the opportunity to leave a plane during a long tarmac delay and to access food and water,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “DOT’s tarmac delay rules were put into place to ensure that passengers are treated with respect when they travel, and we will continue to work to ensure that airlines treat their customers fairly.” 

Under DOT rules, foreign airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats that fly to and from U.S. airports are prohibited from allowing their aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than four hours without giving passengers on board an opportunity to leave the plane.  Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons.  There is a three-hour limit for tarmac delays on domestic flights. 

For all flights delayed on the tarmac, airlines are also required to provide adequate food and water no later than two hours after an aircraft leaves the gate or lands, unless the pilot-in-command determines that it cannot provide these services for safety or security reasons, DOT says. 

On Aug. 15, 2012, Caribbean Airlines flight 421 from New York’s JFK Airport to Trinidad’s Piarco International Airport was scheduled to depart JFK at 2:55 p.m. and arrive at 9:25 p.m.  The plane pushed back from the gate at 3:07 p.m., but was unable to depart immediately due to poor weather conditions and the need to refuel.  The plane remained on the tarmac with passengers on board until the airline was able to obtain a staircase, allowing passengers to leave the plane at 7:35 p.m., 4 hours and 28 minutes after the plane initially left the gate.  Although weather was a factor in the delay, the carrier did not cite any weather-related safety, security or air traffic control-related reason for failing to allow the passengers to leave the plane, DOT said.

Passengers were not offered meals until between 7:00 pm and 7:30 p.m., approximately four hours after leaving the gate.  The plane finally took off at approximately 10:00 p.m., DOT says.