JetBlue Airways violated federal rules last March by not informing passengers on an aircraft delayed at New York’s JFK Airport that they had an opportunity to leave the plane as it sat at the gate with the door open, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT fined JetBlue $90,000 and ordered the airline to cease and desist from further violations.
JetBlue violated a provision of the DOT’s new airline consumer protection rule requiring that if passengers on a delayed flight have the opportunity to leave the aircraft, the carrier must inform them that they can deplane, DOT said. Announcements that passengers can leave the plane must come 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and every 30 minutes afterward.
“Airlines may not leave passengers stranded indefinitely aboard an aircraft, whether on the tarmac or at the gate, and passengers must be told if they are able to leave the plane,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “At DOT, we are committed to protecting consumers when they travel by air, and will continue to take enforcement action when our rules are violated.”
On March 3, 2012, JetBlue Flight 645 was scheduled to depart New York’s JFK Airport at 7:30 p.m. and arrive at San Francisco at 11:16 p.m. local time. Boarding began at 7:06 p.m., but the flight was delayed and the doors to the aircraft did not close until 9:55 p.m. An investigation by DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that passengers were not notified that they had the opportunity to leave the aircraft during this delay, even though the aircraft door was open and customers could have deplaned at any time.
The Enforcement Office also found that JetBlue’s contingency plan for long tarmac delays did not contain the assurance, as required by the DOT rule, that passengers on delayed flights will receive notifications about the status of the delay every 30 minutes, including the reasons for the delay.
DOT’s new airline consumer protection rule, which took effect in August 2011, was adopted as part of the Department’s efforts to prevent passengers from being left for extended periods aboard aircraft. The new rule expanded DOT’s existing ban on tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights, which took effect in April 2010, by adding a four-hour limit for tarmac delays on international flights operating at U.S. airports. Exceptions to the tarmac-delay limits are allowed only for safety, security, and air traffic control-related reasons.