The U.S. Department of Transportation is fining American Airlines $1.6 million for holding domestic flights on the tarmac for more than three hours without allowing passengers to deplane.
The penalty, announced Wednesday afternoon, matches one levied against Southwest Airlines last year as the highest amounts ever imposed by the DOT for violating the so-called "Tarmac Delay Rule."
“Our tarmac rule is meant to prevent passengers from being trapped in aircraft on the ground for hours on end,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
According to the rule, U.S. flights with 30 or more passengers have to let people deplane after they've sat on the tarmac for three hours. Airlines also have to provide food, water and working bathrooms during delays.
DOT referenced an incident at DFW International Airport where they said American Airlines didn't properly prepare for heavy snow and rain--resulting in long delays.
In March 2015, passengers on a 30-minute American Airlines flight to Oklahoma City waited more than nine hours. The airline apologized for the delay.
American Airlines provided a statement in response to the DOT announcement.
“We are pleased to have this matter resolved," the statement said. "It’s worth noting that a large portion of the settlement is related to a winter weather event that occurred nearly four years ago in Charlotte."
"Regardless, every situation is a learning opportunity and we remain committed to taking care of our customers,” the statement said.
Of the $1.6 million fine, about $602,000 will be credited back to the airline for compensation it has already paid passengers on affected flights. The DOT also agreed to waive $303,000 of the fine to reimburse the airline for better equipment to help avoid such problems in the future, the agency said in the release.