The Department of Transportation said Thursday that it’s investigating 34 flights from Charlotte Douglas International Airport that were delayed and kept passengers stuck for more than three hours on the tarmac during a snowstorm in February.
All of the flights were operated by US Airways or US Airways Express. Federal rules prohibit airlines from holding passengers on the tarmac for more than three hours during delays, except for safety, security or air traffic control reasons.
US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said the company is conducting its own internal investigation into the circumstances, and is also working with the DOT. She said the internal investigation’s results aren’t available yet.
Mohr said that during the February storm delays, passengers stuck on planes were given food, water and access to working lavatories.
The Feb. 16 snowstorm caught much of the Charlotte region off-guard. The airport had to de-ice 232 planes.
Charlotte Douglas took over de-icing operations from US Airways in 2010, a move that aviation director Jerry Orr said was designed to increase efficiency. The airport almost ran out of deicing fluid in 2011 during a winter storm, which caused the cancellation of hundreds of US Airways flights.
After the February storm, a memo from US Airways Express subsidiary PSA Airlines put some of the blame for the long delays on a “communication breakdown” between airline personnel and airport workers. However, Mohr said the airport’s deicing services were effective.
Charlotte Douglas officials said airport deicing times on Feb. 16 started at eight minutes in the morning but escalated to 17 minutes in the afternoon and evening, after a band of wet snow moved through the area.
Airlines can be fined for violating the tarmac delay rule. In the past, some fines have been hefty. American Eagle was fined $900,000 after 15 flights had long tarmac delays in 2011. In February, United Airlines was fined $130,000 for a delayed flight at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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