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Airline Forced to Pay $90k For Stranding Passengers on Plane

Airline Forced to Pay $90k For Stranding Passengers on Plane

The Long Island-based airline JetBlue Airways will have to pay the U.S. Department of Transportation $90,000 for not telling passengers they were allowed to leave a plane which sat at the gate for an extra two and a half hours. The flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was scheduled to leave at 7:30 but the plane didn’t end up taking off until nearly 10:00 pm. During that time, passengers were stuck on the aircraft and staff failed to announce that they could depart the plane while they waited.

The fine comes after the Department of Transportation created a passenger rights bill that has been slowly going into effect since April 2010. That rights bill includes a rule that states that passengers must be informed every 30 minutes of a delay in departure time after boarding the plane and while the plane is still at the gate with the door open.

CNN Money quotes U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on the issue:

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.

JetBlue failed to make clear that passengers could leave. NewJersey.com quotes David Barger, the CEO of JetBlue who had this to say about this week’s ruling, “This is such a nuance, though… I’m sure there were some lessons learned.”

A communications manager for the airline made a rather more apologetic statement regarding the incident. She reminded possible customers that it was a one-time affair that should not recur on the airline. Tamara Young told reporters, “This is not an example of the JetBlue experience. For this, we fully acknowledge our fault and will comply with the DOT ruling. We now have a solid plan in place.”

The underlying rule that affected JetBlue has the potential to fine carriers as much as $27,500 per passenger if they fail to give the half-hour warnings. The passenger bill of rights also mandates that ticket deal sites, such as Orbitz and Travelocity, provide warnings that baggage fees may not be required by the airline. In fact, Orbitz was charged $50,000 this week as well for failing to do just that.

Many passenger advocacy groups have applauded the fine meted out to JetBlue. Kate Hanni of the group FlyersRights.org told Newsday, “We’re really grateful the DOT is fining airlines when they violate rules… We hope the department takes all such incidents very seriously and imposes fines because the behavior won’t stop otherwise.”

Despite JetBlue’s statements about the incident, it appears that stranded passengers have been a common problem with the airline and many others. In 2007, nine JetBlue planes full of passengers were stranded during an ice storm for at least six hours in which they did not leave the plane. CNN notes that another airline, American Eagle, was fined $900,000 in November for violating the same passenger rights rule as JetBlue. Passenger rights groups think the bad press might help push airlines to treat passengers with greater care in the future.

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Photo Credit: Michael Gray, Flickr

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25 comments

+ add your own
2:37PM PDT on Aug 28, 2012

The passengers should at least have been refunded the price of their tickets.

8:46AM PDT on Aug 23, 2012

Totally unacceptable! Thanks for posting!

6:33AM PDT on Aug 23, 2012

Fines should compensate the passengers!

11:13PM PDT on Aug 22, 2012

Marianne C is right !

9:15PM PDT on Aug 22, 2012

TO Marianne C: I agree wholeheartedly. The passengers were the ones greatly inconvenienced; not the US Dept. of Transportation. That seems extremely unfair to me that the passengers are the ones doing the suffering while the USDT reaps the "benefits". I feel strongly is the airlines do this, the money should be equally divided among the passengers. At least if you are forced to sit on a runway for several hours, you should be paid for it. Let this happen often enough, perhaps the airlines will get their act together. If not, at least we'll have some happy passengers for a change.

8:49PM PDT on Aug 22, 2012

Good- being trapped on the plane with usually no food, water or even open toilets is torture.

5:49PM PDT on Aug 22, 2012

I'm sure we'll see/read plenty more of these in the future. It's a shame travelers are put in this position, like it's not bad enough walking through the airport's distance to the next gate.

3:27PM PDT on Aug 22, 2012

Fines should go to the passengers!
I can't tell you how difficult it was for my mom to make a simple trip. Despite planning for plenty of time in between flight connections, every flight was late - she ended up staying overnight twice - it took her 3 days to get home and there was "nothing" on the weather radar.
Am sick to death of the trials and tribulations of air travel. It's bad enough that you're packed in like sardines... that's getting to be the least of the problems and worries.
I sincerely hope I can get through the rest of my life without ever traveling by air again.

2:52PM PDT on Aug 22, 2012

thanks

12:42PM PDT on Aug 22, 2012

I'm with Marianne C - give the money to those who put up with this ridiculous, torturous situation!

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