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(Adds American Airlines reaction, background)
WASHINGTON, Dec 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department on Wednesday fined American Airlines a record-matching $1.6 million for violating a rule that prohibits long tarmac delays.
The department said it found American had allowed a number of domestic flights to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without allowing passengers an opportunity to get off the plane. The fine matched the amount that was assessed against Southwest Airlines in 2015 for violating the same rule.
American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said the company was pleased to have resolved the issue. "It's worth noting that a large portion of the settlement is related to a winter weather event that occurred nearly four years ago in Charlotte," he said.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement the "tarmac rule is meant to prevent passengers from being trapped in aircraft on the ground for hours on end."
Under government rules, U.S. airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats are prohibited from allowing domestic flights to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane with some limited exceptions.
The rules also require airlines to provide adequate food and water, ensure that lavatories are working and, if necessary, provide medical attention to passengers during long tarmac delays.
The long tarmac delays that led to American's $1.6 million fine include some on flights operated by both American Airlines' predecessor, US Airways, and its regional partners during a snowstorm.
Of the $1.6 million fine, the government will deduct $602,000 for what American provided in compensation to passengers on delayed flights, and another $303,000 for what American paid towards its costs of maintaining a surface management and surveillance system at Charlotte and Dallas-Fort Worth to monitor the location of each aircraft, the department said. (Reporting by David Shepardson and Timothy Ahmann in Washington and Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by G Crosse and Sandra Maler)