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.
Photo Credit: Michael Gray, Flickr