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Saturday, May 18, 2024

DOT Fines Volaris $300,000 for Unlawfully Keeping Hundreds of Passengers on the Tarmac for Hours

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined Volaris Airlines $300,000 for violating federal statutes and the Department’s rule prohibiting tarmac delays of four hours or more on international flights without providing passengers an opportunity to deplane. The airline was also ordered to cease and desist from future similar violations.

“If an airline passenger is stranded on the tarmac for hours on end, they have the right to disembark from the plane—and we’re making sure airlines give passengers that opportunity,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This enforcement action reflects our ongoing commitment to protecting consumers and holding airlines accountable.”

An extensive investigation by the Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) found that in 2021 and 2022, Volaris allowed two flights to remain on the tarmac for lengthy periods without providing passengers an opportunity to deplane, in violation of the Department’s tarmac delay rule.

On August 17, 2021, Volaris flight 5892 from Guadalajara to Dallas Fort Worth experienced a tarmac delay of five hours and 32 minutes when it was diverted to Houston George Bush. In total, 157 passengers were affected. In addition, on July 23, 2022, Volaris flight 826 from Mexico City to Chicago O’Hare experienced a tarmac delay of four hours and 35 minutes when it was diverted to St. Louis. In total, 167 passengers were affected. OACP found that none of the exceptions to the tarmac delay rule, including the safety and security exceptions, applied to those flights. In addition, on flight 826, passengers were not provided with food and water as required.

DOT’s Historic Record of Consumer Protection Under the Biden-Harris Administration

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, DOT has advanced the largest expansion of airline passenger rights, issued the biggest fines against airlines for failing consumers, and returned more money to passengers in refunds and reimbursements than ever before in the Department’s history.

  • Last month, DOT announced two final rules that require airlines to provide automatic cash refunds to passengers when owed and protect consumers from costly surprise airline fees. These rules will significantly expand consumer protections in air travel, provide passengers an easier pathway to refunds when owed, and save consumers more than half a billion dollars every year in hidden and surprise junk fees.
     
  • In 2022, under Secretary Buttigieg’s guidance, DOT created an Airline Customer Service Dashboard known as FlightRights.gov to help airline passengers understand what they are entitled to receive when a delay or cancellation was within the airlines’ control and create standards that the Department can enforce. Now all 10 major U.S. airlines guarantee free rebooking and meals, and nine guarantee hotel accommodations when an airline issue causes a significant delay or cancellation. These are new commitments the airlines added to their customer service plans that DOT can legally ensure they adhere to and are displayed on flightrights.gov.
     
  • Since President Biden took office, DOT has helped return almost $4 billion in refunds and reimbursements owed to airline passengers – including more than $600 million to passengers affected by the Southwest Airlines holiday meltdown in 2022.
     
  • DOT has issued over $164 million in penalties against airlines for consumer protection violations. Between 1996 and 2020, DOT collectively issued less than $71 million in penalties against airlines for consumer protection violations.
     
  • DOT recently launched a new partnership with a bipartisan group of state attorneys general to fast-track the review of consumer complaints, hold airlines accountable, and protect the rights of the traveling public.
     
  • In 2023, the flight cancellation rate in the U.S. was a record low at under 1.2% – the lowest rate of flight cancellations in over 10 years despite a record amount of air travel.
     
  • DOT is undertaking its first ever industry-wide review of airline privacy practices and its first review of airline loyalty programs. 

In addition to finalizing the rules to require automatic refunds and protect consumers from surprise fees, DOT is also pursuing rulemakings that would:  

  • Propose to ban family seating junk fees and guarantee that parents can sit with their children for no extra charge when they fly. Before President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg pressed airlines last year, no airline committed to guaranteeing fee-free family seating. Now, four airlines guarantee fee-free family seating, as the Department is working on its family seating junk fee ban proposal.
     
  • Propose to make passenger compensation and amenities mandatory so that travelers are taken care of when airlines cause flight delays or cancellations.
     
  • Expand the rights for passengers who use wheelchairs and ensure that they can travel safely and with dignity. The comment period on this proposed rule closes on May 13, 2024.

DOT’s aviation consumer protection website makes it easy for travelers to understand their rights. The page on tarmac delays can be found here. Consumers may file an airline complaint with the Department here.

The consent order is available at regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2024-0001. 

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Official news published at https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/dot-fines-volaris-300000-unlawfully-keeping-hundreds-passengers-tarmac-hours

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