The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) said it levied USD 3.6 million in penalties for 2012 violations of the department’s consumer-protection rules for air passengers. The total is up from USD 3.3 million in 2011. During 2012, the Department issued 49 consent orders for consumer rule violations, the most recent two against Copa Airlines and Virgin America for not strictly adhering to the DOT’s rules for lengthy tarmac delays.Airlines may not allow tarmac delays longer than three hours on domestic flights and four hours on international flights at U.S. airports without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane. Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons. In addition, if a flight is delayed at the gate and passengers are able to leave the plane, the carrier must announce the opportunity to deplane 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and every 30 minutes afterward.The Department found that Copa left passengers stranded aboard an aircraft at New York’s JFK Airport for five hours and 34 minutes on June 22, 2012 on a flight bound for Panama. Passengers were not offered food until more than four hours into the delay, although DOT rules call for airlines to provide food and drinking water no later than two hours after leaving the gate. Copa also failed to report the tarmac delay to the Department as required, and DOT found out about the delay only after two consumers filed complaints with the Department.Virgin America was fined for failing to notify passengers in an aircraft delayed at the gate for two hours and 16 minutes at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on July 18, 2012, that they could leave the aircraft prior to its departure for San Francisco.Source: DOT press release01-13 of Jan. 2, 2013The enforcement orders are available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002.