There were no super-long tarmac delays for airlines in December, making 2014 the best year on record for the fewest such incidents.
The U.S. Department of Transportation said Tuesday that for all of 2014, there were 30 domestic flights with ground delays topping three hours. Under rules that took effect in 2010, airlines can be fined for such long delays.
The department said that in the year before the rules were put into place, there were 868 domestic flights stuck on the ground for more than three hours.
"These tarmac delay rules are meant to protect passengers, and it appears that the airlines have gotten the message," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Also, cancelations fell and on-time ratings improved in December compared with the previous year, when an early winter storm snarled traffic in the southern plains states.
Overall, 75.3 percent of flights within the U.S. arrived on-time in December, down from 80.6 percent in November but up from 68.9 percent in December 2013. A flight is considered on-time if it arrives within 14 minutes of schedule.
Delta Air Lines topped the ratings, with an 88.9 percent on-time rating. The worst rating, 63.1 percent, was turned in by Envoy Air, which operates many American Eagle flights for American Airlines.
Canceled flights fell to 1.4 percent from 2.9 percent in December 2013.
In April 2010, the Transportation Department enacted penalties of up to $27,500 per passenger if airlines kept a domestic flight on the ground for more than three hours without giving passengers a chance to exit. The following year, the rules were expanded to cover international flights with tarmac delays of more than four hours. There were nine such delays on international flights last year, also the fewest since the rules took effect.
The airline industry fought the rules, arguing that they would lead to a rash of last-minute cancelations. Rather than risk a fine, airlines increasingly cancel flights well ahead of time if they expect bad weather to cause delays.
Last month, the department levied what it termed a record, $1.6 million penalty against Southwest Airlines for violating the rules during a January 2014 storm in Chicago. Southwest was fined $600,000 and given credit for $700,000 it spent to compensate passengers and buy new equipment. The department agreed to waive $300,000 of the fine if Southwest doesn't break the rules again in the next year.
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