DOT Fines Pakistan International Airlines for Denying Passengers Opportunity to Leave Aircraft During Lengthy Tarmac Delay

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today said that Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) violated federal rules last October by not providing passengers on an aircraft diverted to Washington Dulles Airport an opportunity to leave the plane before it was delayed on the tarmac for more than four hours.  DOT fined PIA $150,000 and ordered the airline to cease and desist from further violations. 

This is the first fine for an international flight in violation of the Department’s new consumer protection rule, which took effect in August 2011, setting a four-hour limit for tarmac delays on international flights. While other lengthy tarmac delays that occurred on the same day are still under review, the PIA incident was the only one occurring at Dulles Airport, which was not subject to the weather, equipment, infrastructure, and international arrival limitations that existed at other affected airports.   

“Passengers deserve to be treated with respect when they fly, and DOT’s tarmac delay rules were put into place to ensure that they receive that respect,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We take any violation seriously, and will continue to take enforcement action against airlines that fail to comply with these rules.” 

Under DOT rules, foreign airlines operating aircraft, with 30 or more passenger seats, that fly to and from U.S. airports are prohibited from allowing their aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than four hours at most 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.  The rules require carriers to include the four-hour provision in their tarmac delay contingency plan commitments to passengers. 

PIA flight 711, traveling from England’s Manchester Airport to New York’s JFK Airport, was scheduled to arrive at JFK at 3:27 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2011, but diverted to Washington Dulles Airport due to interruptions in JFK’s Instrument Landing System equipment. After landing at Dulles at 4:28 p.m., the plane remained delayed on the tarmac for four hours and forty-seven minutes. Although the captain and first officer were able to safely deplane the aircraft by air stairs in order to conduct external safety inspections of the aircraft, airline officials believed that deplaning passengers by air stairs may have been unsuitable due to the inclement weather, as well as the number of passengers requiring wheelchairs and the number of small children on board. However, PIA made no other attempts to deplane passengers by any other means or to seek assistance from the airport operator in deplaning before the tarmac delay exceeded four hours, in violation of DOT rules. 

The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002.  

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