MIAMI - MAY 22: Captain Dale Popik aboard flight #57 from London Heathrow taxis into the gate', as he completes his final flight prior to retirement May 22, 2008 after 30 years of service as a pilot for American Airlines at Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida. American Airlines announced yesterday that it is parking 50 planes that are either older or less efficiant due to the soaring cost of fuel. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Add American Airlines to the list of carriers that want out of the government's new rule to limit the time passengers can be held on the tarmac.
American has filed for a temporary exemption with the Department of Transportation for flights from New York's JFK Airport, saying delays caused by the closure of the airport's main runway could cost them millions in fines.
JetBlue and Delta asked for exemptions last week. Those three airlines are the largest operators at JFK.
The new rule is set to go into effect next month. It could mean fines of up to $27,500 per passenger if a plane is stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours. For an average Boeing 737, that could mean a fine of nearly $4 million.
For some of American's larger planes, like the ones that fly internationally, the fines would be even larger. A delayed flight on a Boeing 777 could levy a fine of $8.9 million.
American said the gridlock due to construction at JFK will lead airlines to "cancel flights rather than run the risk of incurring such crippling penalties." The airline said this could especially hurt passengers traveling from New York to destinations with a limited number of flights per day because they have fewer options to rebook if their flight is canceled.
The Federal Aviation Administration expects delays at JFK will average about 50 minutes during peak times and 29 minutes at other times during runway construction, expected to last until June 30. That is comparable to delays on busy summer days.
American, based in Fort Worth, Texas, said it supports JetBlue and Delta in their requests for exemptions, but only if they apply to all carriers at JFK.
"Any scenario under when which some but not all carriers at JFK would be subject to the tarmac delay rule would be unworkable, unfair and confusing to consumers," it said in the filing.
Kate Hanni of flyersrights.org, a passenger rights advocate who spearheaded the 3-hour tarmac limit, urged the DOT to deny the airlines' requests.
"Absolutely no way, no how should the DOT allow JetBlue, Delta and American off the hook for this rule," she said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Those are the three that chronically overscheduled flights and the reason that planes sit on the tarmac."
JetBlue, Delta and American have reduced their schedules by about 10 percent while the runway is shut down. But Hanni claims JFK traffic was overscheduled by as much as 56 percent before construction began.
DOT spokesman Bill Mosley said the department expects to issue an official response to the airlines soon.