MIAMI – The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has fined United Airlines (UA) US$1.9m for breaching the federal tarmac-delay rule, which focuses on how long passengers can be held on planes on the ground.

If a plane is grounded for more than three hours on domestic flights or four hours on international flights, passengers must be allowed to return to the terminal. However, Between December 2015 and February 2021, 3,218 passengers were affected by UA’s extended tarmac delays on 20 domestic and five overseas flights, according to the DOT.

In 2016, an international flight experienced the longest delay. According to the consent decree, passengers were forced to sit on a grounded plane for more than five hours.

United Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Photo: Daniel Gorun/Airways

The Fine

Out of the US$1.9m, the airline will pay half in cash within 30 days. The DOT has credited UA the other US$950,000 for compensation the airline paid to passengers on delayed flights and for money it spent to develop a diversion-management tool. 

United Airlines agreed to pay the penalty but admitted no wrongdoing, the DOT order says, as the carrier claims in the consent decree that extreme weather was to blame for the majority of the protracted delays.

United Airlines N648UA Boeing 767-300ER. Photo: Sean Brink/Airways

Comments from United Airlines

United Airlines spokesperson Charles Hobart stated that the order covers 25 out of nearly 8 million flights flown by UA or subsidiary United Express during the timeframe of the violations.

Hobart also said that the carrier had invested in ground-service equipment to ensure that many strategically located airports had the capability to handle a variety of aircraft beyond the type of planes that are scheduled for the airport. 

“The safety of our customers and employees is always our first priority…particularly during severe weather,” Hobart said. “We remain committed to fully meeting all DOT rules and will continue identifying and implementing improvements in how we manage difficult operating conditions while maintaining the safety of our customers and employees.”

Featured image: Boeing 777-223ER. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways. Article sources:,