Southwest Airlines is facing a $1.6 million fine for long flight delays. The airline would not let passengers exit planes that were stuck for hours in Chicago during a freezing winter storm on Jan. 2, 2014.
When the storm hit there was a huge increase in the number of Southwest employees calling in sick. The airline believes this was part of a protest against contract negotiations.
The hefty fine is a record high for a violation again federal rules of long tarmac delays. According to the Department of Transportation, 16 planes were stuck on the ground for around three hours after landing at Chicago’s Midway Airport.
The airline has to shell out $600,000. It was given credit for $269,000 to compensate passengers, as well as $431,000 on new equipment. If Southwest does not break the rules again in 2015 then $300,000 will be waived.
Company officials said that the weather conditions and congestion at the airport made operations very challenging. Mike Van de Ven, Chief Operating Officer at Southwest, said that shortly after the incident the airline increased staffing to prevent a repetition of the event.
Southwest had a severe shortage of ramp workers. According to a union lawsuit, the company was dealing with an “inexplicable increase” in sick calls by Midway ground employees. A total of one-third of workers called in sick on New Year’s Day.
Despite the delays in Chicago Southwest Airlines won Airline of the Year
Last month Southwest Airlines won The Air Transport World 2015 Airline of the Year Award for extraordinary and consistent standards of service, safety, financial performance, and environmental and corporate responsibility.