CHICAGO, July 10 (UPI) -- U.S. regulators say they will decide whether to fine United Airlines up to $27,500 per passenger for leaving passengers in idling planes more than three hours.
Chicago-based United operated four of the five U.S. flights delayed in May beyond the new limit on tarmac time set by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Delta Air Lines operated the fifth flight, which took off from Atlanta 2 minutes after the three-hour cutoff point, federal data indicated.
The United delays occurred May 26 after thunderstorms halted take-offs and landings at Denver International Airport, United spokeswoman Jean Medina said. Tarmac delays for the four flights ranged from 3 hours, 10 minutes to 4 hours, 41 minutes, DOT data indicated.
"All customers were offered the opportunity to exit the plane and were provided snacks and water as we waited for the weather to improve and air traffic control clearance to safely continue on to Denver," Medina said.
The prospect of steep fines, which took effect in April 29, reduced delays, officials said.
Tammy Jones, a Transportation Department spokeswoman, said investigators would determine if United and Delta violated the new rules before issuing any fines. That could take weeks, Jones said.
The regulations require airlines to provide passengers on long-delayed flights food, water and clean lavatories. Airlines also are required to let passengers get off planes stuck on the ground three hours or more.
However, airlines will not face fines for flights delayed for safety and security or if pilots are ordered by air traffic controllers not to return to an airport terminal.
Delta spokesman Anthony Black said Flight 2011, bound for Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport May 28, was in line to take off from Atlanta when thunderstorms began. The crew asked to return to the terminal after two hours' delay but air traffic controllers denied the request because of the threat of lighting, Black said.