Frontier Airlines gets $1.5 million fine stemming from tarmac delays during Dec. 2016 storm

A Frontier Airlines plan at Denver International Airport. (Courtesy of Frontier Airlines)
A Frontier Airlines plan at Denver International Airport. (Courtesy of Frontier Airlines)
A Frontier Airlines plan at Denver International Airport. (Courtesy of Frontier Airlines)

Frontier Airlines got a $1.5 million fine from the Department of Transportation Friday for keeping passengers on the tarmac for more than three hours.

The $1.5 million fine for violating the tarmac delay rule is the second highest amount for an airline. (Both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have incurred $1.6 million fines.)

It all stems back to an unexpectedly strong winter storm last December

All told, twelve different Frontier flights from Dec. 16 to 18 were in violation of the rule prohibiting long tarmac delays. DOT found that though Frontier had a plan to deal with delays, the airline didn’t execute it well enough.

Initially, Frontier planned for a normal weekend, but by 10 p.m. on Dec. 16, heavy snow was falling and departing aircraft were being sent back to the gates, according to DOT order. This was, by the way, an unexpectedly strong storm, according to DOT. Still, Frontier’s deicing efforts didn’t keep up, plus some planes had mechanical issues.

At that point, all of Frontier’s priority gates were filled, but Frontier continued to land its scheduled flights at Denver, “despite the lack of available gates and the increasing snow fall,” DOT said.

It gets worse. Here’s the full fail list from DOT’s press release:

“Frontier failed to properly 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. Frontier failed to have adequate resources at Denver to accommodate the additional aircraft on the ground at the airport. Moreover, Frontier failed to delay, divert, or cancel a sufficient number of flights scheduled to arrive at Denver, even though it was aware of the conditions at Denver, to allow the carrier to recover and reduce the probability of flights experiencing long tarmac delays.  In addition, Frontier could have mitigated or prevented the lengthy tarmac delays if it had accepted services offered by the airport.”

That left one flight waiting on the tarmac for more than four hours. And aside from the actual rule breaking, there’s the matter of all the delays.

The Denver Post reported that about 70 percent of the airline’s flights that weekend were delayed and only completed 65 percent of its scheduled flights the following Monday.

So back to that $1.5 million fine — Frontier should get $900,000 of it back in credit because it already distributed travel vouchers to affected passengers. That’s pending proper verification. The other $600,000 will be paid in two $300,000 chunks, the last of which is due on Jan. 15 next year.

Frontier Airlines spokesperson Richard Oliver provided the following statement on the whole affair via email:

“Frontier remains committed to complying with DOT rules and regulations, including those relating to lengthy tarmac delays. During last December’s crippling storm, our operation in Denver was faced with a myriad of operational challenges. We have since revised our procedures for irregular winter weather operations and have worked with DIA’s airport authority to implement a drop-and-go deplaning process that will prevent any future occurrences.”