The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has fined Japan Airlines (JAL) $300,000 for two incidents in which the airline forced passengers to wait more than 4h on the tarmac before being given an opportunity to deplane.

A consent order released on 12 September says JAL agreed to the fine to avoid litigation, but that the airline disagrees with the Enforcement Office’s determination that penalties for excessive tarmac delays may be assessed on a per-passenger basis.

The incidents occurred on the same route, from Tokyo’s Narita International airport to John F Kennedy International airport in New York, with the same flight number, in January and May 2018. JAL flight 004 diverted to Chicago O’Hare and Washington Dulles airports, respectively.

On 4 January 2018, JL004 experienced a tarmac delay of 4h 31min when it diverted to Chicago. A winter storm had hit the New York area, forcing JFK to close for almost 24h.

The DOT determined Japan Airlines violated regulations when it failed to provide passengers on flight JL004 an opportunity to deplane by the required 4h mark.

On 15 May 2018, thunderstorms in the New York area forced the flight again to divert. JL004 landed at Washington Dulles airport to refuel in anticipation of heading to JFK when the weather improved. Just after 4h into the delay, the crew timed out. Passengers deplaned the aircraft 4h 59min into the delay.

In its response to the order, Japan Airlines states that, “It takes seriously its obligation to abide by the department’s tarmac delay rule and that it is committed to ensuring the safety, security and comfort of its passengers”. It adds that the delays were largely beyond the airline’s control, occurring due to weather-related congestion.

Japan Airlines adds in the order that it has developed an operations control bulletin that identifies the core components of the pertinent tarmac delay requirements and emphasises that a decision to deplane should be made well before the 4h limit to account for circumstances outside of JAL’s control, such as unavailability of airport resources in a mass diversion situation.