The U.S. government on Wednesday imposed its first fine on an international carrier for keeping passengers aboard a plane during an extended ground delay, slapping a $150,000 penalty on Pakistan International Airlines.
The Transportation Department said the airline violated its time limit for overseas flights held on the tarmac for weather, mechanical or other problems. They must give passengers a chance to exit the aircraft after four hours in most cases.
"Passengers deserve to be treated with respect when they fly, and DOT's tarmac delay rules were put into place to ensure that they receive that respect," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
PIA Flight 711 was enroute to New York's John F. Kennedy airport from Manchester, England, when diverted to Washington's Dulles airport last October 29 due to inoperable instrument landing equipment in New York, which had been hit by a surprise snowstorm.
The plane sat on the tarmac for nearly five hours, according to transportation officials, who alleged PIA made no effort to let passengers off or ask airport officials for help.
The captain and first officer got off the plane and inspected the aircraft, the agency said. But passengers were not given the opportunity to leave because the airline thought the bad weather was too risky for them to exit via stairs.
Compounding the airline's concerns were multiple passengers in wheel chairs and small children who were aboard.
The surprise snowstorm stranded passengers throughout the Northeast on a number of domestic airlines, including several flights that tested federal ground delay rules.
A consumer protection regulation established in 2010 under pressure from consumer advocates and Congress requires domestic airlines to give passengers a chance to deplane if a ground delay exceeds three hours. The rule was extended last year for international flights, imposing a four-hour limit.
Airlines have dramatically cut lengthy ground delays since the rules were finalized as carriers will now cancel flights rather than risk fines.
The rules allow exceptions for security or safety.