JetBlue Airways Corp. was fined $90,000 by the U.S. Transportation Department for failing to tell passengers during a 2 1/2-hour delay they could get off the plane as allowed under a 2010 federal rule.

Passengers at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport weren’t told they could leave the plane as it sat at the gate with the door open on March 3, awaiting departure to San Francisco, the department said in an e-mailed statement.

The fine was the second ever issued by the department in connection with an April 2010 rule, expanded in 2011, that fines carriers that don’t give passengers the option of getting off planes stuck on tarmacs. AMR Corp.’s Eagle unit was fined $900,000 in November 2011 for Chicago O’Hare tarmac delays over the U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend that year.

Part of the rule states that if passengers have an opportunity to leave a stalled flight, such as when the plane is at the gate and the door is open, they must be advised 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and every 30 minutes afterward.

An investigation found JetBlue’s contingency plan for long delays didn’t contain assurances passengers would receive notifications on the status of the delay, even though that is required, according to the department’s statement.

“We’re cooperating” with the department, JetBlue Chief Executive Officer David Barger said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

“This is such a nuance, though,” Barger said. Passengers could have left any time with the door open, even though no announcements were being made, he said. “I’m sure there are some lessons learned.”

Stranded Passengers

The underlying rule fines carriers as much as $27,500 per passenger when they fail to give customers a chance to get off planes stalled on tarmacs for at least three hours on domestic flights or four hours on international trips.

The rule was written after passengers were stranded on planes for hours, sometimes without access to food or working restrooms, in widely publicized incidents, including one in which 47 people were stuck on a 50-seat ExpressJet Holdings Inc. aircraft for 5 1/2 hours in Rochester, Minnesota, in August 2009.

Separately today, the Transportation Department fined ticket agent Orbitz $50,000 for failing to “clearly and prominently” tell consumers they may have to pay baggage fees on top of ticket prices.

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DOT release in full, about the JetBlue fine:

U.S. Department of Transportation Fines JetBlue for Not Informing Passengers of Opportunity to Leave Aircraft During Delay at Gate

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today said JetBlue Airways violated federal rules last March by not informing passengers on an aircraft delayed at New York’s JFK Airport that they had an opportunity to leave the plane as it sat at the gate with the door open.  DOT fined JetBlue $90,000 and ordered the airline to cease and desist from further violations.

JetBlue violated a provision of the DOT’s new airline consumer protection rule requiring that if passengers on a delayed flight have the opportunity to leave the aircraft, the carrier must inform them that they can deplane.  Announcements that passengers can leave the plane must come 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and every 30 minutes afterward.

“Airlines may not leave passengers stranded indefinitely aboard an aircraft, whether on the tarmac or at the gate, and passengers must be told if they are able to leave the plane,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “At DOT, we are committed to protecting consumers when they travel by air, and will continue to take enforcement action when our rules are violated.”

On March 3, 2012, JetBlue Flight 645 was scheduled to depart New York’s JFK Airport at 7:30 p.m. and arrive at San Francisco at 11:16 p.m. local time.  Boarding began at 7:06 p.m., but the flight was delayed and the doors to the aircraft did not close until 9:55 p.m.  An investigation by DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that passengers were not notified that they had the opportunity to leave the aircraft during this delay, even though the aircraft door was open and customers could have deplaned at any time.  The Enforcement Office also found that JetBlue’s contingency plan for long tarmac delays did not contain the assurance, as required by the DOT rule, that passengers on delayed flights will receive notifications about the status of the delay every 30 minutes, including the reasons for the delay.

DOT’s new airline consumer protection rule, which took effect in August 2011, was adopted as part of the Department’s efforts to prevent passengers from being left for extended periods aboard aircraft.  The new rule expanded DOT’s existing ban on tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights, which took effect in April 2010, by adding a four-hour limit for tarmac delays on international flights operating at U.S. airports.  Exceptions to the tarmac-delay limits are allowed only for safety, security, and air traffic control-related reasons.

The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002.