The U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) fined American Eagle Airlines USD 900,000 for lengthy tarmac delays that took place at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on May 29, 2011. This is the first fine for a violation of the Department’s rule, which took effect in April 2010, setting a three-hour limit for tarmac delays on domestic flights. It also represents the largest penalty to be paid by an airline in a consumer protection case not involving civil rights violations.Under DOT rules, U.S. airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats are prohibited from allowing their domestic flights to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours at large-, medium-, small- and non-hub U.S. airports without giving passengers an opportunity to deplane. Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons. The rules require carriers to include the three-hour provision in their tarmac delay contingency plan commitments to passengers.On May 29, 2011, American Eagle had tarmac delays of more than three hours on 15 flights arriving at O’Hare. Those 15 flights had tarmac delays of up to 225 minutes, which was 45 minutes beyond the limit. A total of 608 passengers were aboard the affected flights. An investigation by DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office concluded that while the airline had a procedure in place to bring passengers subject to a tarmac delay back to the gate, the carrier was late in implementing its procedure, resulting in violations of the rule.Source: DOT press release 145-11 of Nov. 14, 2011The consent order is available at www.regulations.gov, DOT-OST-2011-0003.