The Department of Transportation said it has fined JetBlue $90,000, after it failed to inform passengers that they could leave a plane that sat at the gate for close to three hours.
DOT said that violated airline protection rules that went into effect in April 2010. The rule says that if passengers can get off the plane, they should be informed that they can do so and they should be given updates every 30 minutes.
In this case, JetBlue Flight 645 was scheduled to depart at 7:30 p.m. The plane was boarded at 7:05 p.m., but remained at the gate with the door open until 9:55 p.m. Passengers were never told they could leave the aircraft.
"Airlines may not leave passengers stranded indefinitely aboard an aircraft, whether on the tarmac or at the gate, and passengers must be told if they are able to leave the plane," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "At DOT, we are committed to protecting consumers when they travel by air, and will continue to take enforcement action when our rules are violated."
The New Jersey Star-Ledger received this statement from JetBlue:
"Customers were free to deplane and also given water and access to the lavatories. When the aircraft door was closed and the plane initially pushed back, three customers requested to return to the gate. At that time, the aircraft immediately returned to the gate and one customer elected to deplane. Our policy regarding onboard ground delays, outlined in our Bill of Rights, is industry-leading. However, we did not provide our customers with regular updates in this instance. This is not an example of the JetBlue experience. For this, we fully acknowledge our fault and will comply with the DOT ruling. We now have a solid plan in place."
Last year, DOT first used these regulatory powers when it fined American Eagle $900,000 for 15 planes that sat on a Chicago O'Hare runway for more than three hours.