DOT Fines United For Reporting Tarmac Delays, Earns the Cranky Jackass Award

There redjackasshave been plenty of questionable decisions coming from the Department of Transportation lately, but none more insane than the decision to fine United for accidentally reporting tarmac delays. That’s right. United was overly cautious and now owes at least $6,000 (and another $6,000 if they do it again). I am now asking the DOT for proof that a monkey isn’t running that organization, because I can’t imagine a human making such an absurd ruling.

When I first heard this, I thought it was a joke. But no, it’s not. In May, the first month when the tarmac delay rule was in force, United reported four flights that had exceeded the three hour ground time permitted. They were included in the DOT monthly report but later retracted. See, United made a mistake and was overly cautious, so in exchange, the airline has been slapped with a fine.

That means the DOT gets the dubious honor of earning only the second fire-red-with-anger Cranky Jackass award. You guys suck.

Here’s an explanation from the four page ruling:

In its certified May 2010 BTS Form 234 filing, United reported that four flights were “away from gate” in excess of three hours, including one for four hours and forty-one
minutes. . . . Based on the information reported by United, the Enforcement Office was led to believe that the flights experienced tarmac delays of three hours or more, and, accordingly, initiated an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the delays. In response to the Enforcement Office’s investigation, United examined its data and found that on all four flights, passengers were offered an opportunity to deplane, meaning the doors were open and the brakes were set, before the delays reached three hours in duration. United,
therefore, failed to submit accurate data . . . . United’s misreporting of this data wasted valuable Department resources, since only after the Enforcement Office initiated its investigation did it learn that United improperly filed the data.

So in the very first month the misguided rule applied, United accidentally over-reported. And because the DOT felt it necessary to investigate and found that United was mistaken, the airline will be punished. For its part, United had this bland statement.

It is unfortunate that our effort to be fully transparent with the DOT resulted in our inadvertently reporting four flight delays where we complied with regulations and with our own procedures to ensure the comfort and safety of our customers and employees.

I believe what United actually meant to say was – “Are you f*&(ing crazy, you insane sons of b*&ches?”

Could this agency be sending more mixed signals to airlines?

Think about this. It was deemed incredibly important that by May, airlines had to report their long delays. United had four flights that diverted to Colorado Springs and the airline, which operates thousands of flights every day, reported what it thought was valid because it didn’t want to cross the DOT. Now, the DOT explains that not only do airlines need to report these delays promptly, but if they happen to make a mistake, they’ll be punished for that too. So the incentive is there for the airlines to be more cautious and NOT report? What is the DOT thinking?

This also sends a warning shot across the bow saying that the DOT isn’t messing around here. Though no clarification has been released on how the DOT expects to fine airlines for tarmac delays (and no fine has been announced yet), airlines can only assume it will be the maximum penalty. Time to get even more conservative with scheduling.

This is really one of the many reasons that the DOT has earned the fire-red-with-anger Cranky Jackass award. Words just cannot express how dysfunctional this agency is these days. I can’t remember it being any worse.

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