Last December, Frontier canceled 275 flights after severe winter weather disrupted operations in and out of its hub at Denver International Airport. Still, the airline was slow to respond to the storm, federal aviation officials claim, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded on planes for hours. As a result, the company has been fined $1.5 million.
The Department of Transportation announced recently that it had fined Frontier $1.5 million for violating rules prohibiting long tarmac delays.
Under DOT rules, U.S. airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats are prohibited from allowing their domestic flights to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane.
According to the DOT [PDF], Frontier failed to abide by this rule in 12 incidents during a severe snowstorm between Dec. 16 and Dec. 18. Specifically, 11 flights arriving at the airport and one departing were found to be in violation of the tarmac delay rules.
An investigation by the agency found that during the storm, Frontier failed to properly adjust its operations resulting in gate congestion and long tarmac delays.
Frontier failed to assess the gate situation during the height of the snowstorm and continued to experience gate availability issues and a ground staff shortage after the storm had passed.
While Frontier canceled many flights during the storm, it did not do so in a timely fashion to avoid congestion at Denver International Airport.
The DOT found that once heavy snow began to fall, the airline started to return departing airplanes to their gates. At this point, many of the aircraft began to experience mechanical issues, rendering the gates they were located at unusable.
This caused a problem for flights that were currently in route to Denver. Once these planes landed, there were not available gates for passengers to exit.
In one instance, when a Frontier gate became available, the carrier made the decision to bring an empty aircraft to a gate in order to operate a delayed flight, instead of deplaning one of its long-delayed arrival flights which was experiencing a tarmac delay.
To make matters worse, the DOT claims that Frontier could have prevented at least a portion of the tarmac delays had accepted services offered by the airport.
As the storm continued to affect the airport, three Frontier flights preparing for departure experienced mechanical issues.
Frontier quickly made the decision to return two of these flights to the gate. While the planes were unable to return within the FAA’s allotted three hours, because they began the process before that time frame, they are not subject to enforcement.
As for the third flight, employees attempted to correct the mechanical issue. That was not possible, and it was decided that the plane would return to the gate.
However, the decision to return to the gate was made after the three-hour mark. The plane did not receive clearance to return to the gate until the 4 hour and 14 minute mark.
In the end, the DOT determined that Frontier failed to adequately adjust its operations in response to the snowstorm, creating tarmac delay that were in violation of federal rules.
The DOT ordered Frontier to pay $1.5 million for the violations. Frontier will only pay about $600,000 of the fine, as the agency is crediting the airline for compensation provided to customer on the affected flights.
For its part, Frontier admits that the snowstorm was “much more severe and intense than predicted.” Still, it claims that it attempted to keep up with the influx of delayed and arriving flights by increasing its staffing and writing with airport personnel.