Aug 29, 2023 - Podcasts

DOT slaps American Airlines with a record-breaking fine

The Department of Transportation is fining American Airlines $4.1 million for tarmac delays, the largest ever fine of its kind against an airline.

The big picture: Between 2018 and 2021, American Airlines kept 43 domestic flights stuck on the ground for at least three hours, without giving passengers a chance to exit the plane. As summer comes to an end , we take a look at airline travel.

Summer reading recommendations from Rebecca Makkai:

Guests: Axios' Alex Thompson, Alex Fitzpatrick and Erin Doherty; Author Rebecca Makkai.

Credits: Axios Today was produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi, Robin Linn and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can send questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.


NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It's Tuesday, August 29th. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Today on the show: the DOT slams American Airlines with a record-breaking fine. But first, the dizzying calendar ahead for Trump's trials - and the presidential election. That's today's One Big Thing.

NIALA: A date has been set for the trial over President Trump's alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election. It will be March 4th, 2024. Axios' National Political Correspondent Alex Thompson is here with why that date matters and an update on all of Trump's courtroom battles.

ALEX THOMPSON: Uh, well, it is exactly one day before Super Tuesday. Now, Super Tuesday is the date essentially when the biggest number of states hold their contests for the 2024 nomination. So for this potentially to start, right before then, it could hurt him, it could help him, since his poll numbers have seemingly only gone up with every indictment.

Trump's team has already indicated they are going to try to push and delay and delay. So I would not be surprised if this court date does eventually move.

Now, I'm just gonna run through how crazy this legal calendar is: October 2nd this year, there is a civil fraud suit of the Trump Organization. January 15th, 2024, the E. Jean Carroll civil defamation suit. January 29th, 2024, there's a pyramid scheme class action suit. March 4th, 2024, the federal 2020 election trial. March 25th, 2024, the New York State criminal hush money suit. And May 20th, 2024, the classified documents trial. And we still don't have a trial date yet for the Georgia indictments.

NIALA: Yesterday, Trump's former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, testified in an attempt to move his Georgia case to federal court. What are you hearing about how all these defendants in the Georgia case and their actions may affect the former president?

ALEX: Well, with having so many defendants, there is always the chance that one of these defendants would "flip." Now, what that means is maybe they would testify or change their current testimony against the president if they had a different lawyer or they eventually become so scared of jail time, you know, they're going to change their minds.

Now, one person I can tell you who likely is not going to start changing their story is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Invitations went out for a fundraiser at Bedminster that Trump is going to host for Rudy Giuliani's legal fund. Donald Trump is helping pay a lot of the legal bills for, for people that have been involved in that. Some people say, well, that's right that he does that given his actions on January 6th, but others obviously say, how can you trust they're giving truthful testimony if they're relying on Trump for their legal bills?

NIALA: Alex, so how should we be thinking about all of these different dates and how it coincides with the presidential election calendar?

ALEX: Let's just say that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee, which, at the moment, it looks most likely. In that case, we are going to have a general election dominated by legal filings back and forth, back and forth. It is going to suck up the oxygen in the room. It's going to be very difficult to have any debate that's not about the future of whether or not Trump is going to go to prison for the rest of his life or not. Despite all the other big issues facing the country, Trump's literal freedom is going to be on the ballot in some ways.

NIALA: Axios's national political correspondent, Alex Thompson. Thanks, Alex.

ALEX: Thank you.

In other 2024 news, President Biden's reelection plans are moving along with little opposition, but according to a new poll, most voters – in both parties – feel he is too old for the job. I asked Axios' Erin Doherty to give us the results by the numbers.

ERIN DOHERTY: The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 77% of adults said President Biden, who is 80, is too old to be effective for four more years.

89% of Republicans said he is too old to be effective for another term, and 69% of Democrats said the same. And when asked what the first word or phrase that comes to mind with the mention of President Biden, just over a quarter mentioned the president's age. Meanwhile, former President Trump, who is just a few years younger than Biden at 77, faces far less scrutiny than Biden, even among those from the opposing party about his age.

Biden's re-election campaign says that age is not a strong motivating factor for voters, and instead voters crave policy action or positions on important issues like abortion. They also point to Democrats' success in the 2022 midterm elections with President Biden at the helm.

NIALA: That's Axios' Politics Reporter Erin Doherty. In a moment, holding airlines accountable for tarmac delays.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

The Department of Transportation is fining American Airlines $4.1 million for tarmac delays, the largest fine of its kind against an airline ever. Between 2018 and 2021, American Airlines kept 43 domestic flights with more than 5,800 passengers stuck on the ground for at least three hours without giving passengers the chance to exit the plane.

As summer travel comes to an end this weekend, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick is here with the big picture. Hey, Alex!

ALEX FITZPATRICK: Hey, thanks for having me.

NIALA: So, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg vowed to hold airlines accountable under consumer protection laws. Is that the main significance of this American Airlines fund?

ALEX: I think it does send a message to airlines that the Biden administration is really trying to crack down as much as it can on this kind of behavior and activity and trying to create a more consumer friendly air travel experience.

NIALA: What has American Airlines said about this?

ALEX: So American Airlines has said, you know, they're taking steps to try to reduce these kind of delays, and they're doing what they can. That being said, when there's like a major summer storm, that kind of thing, and one airport has a bunch of planes it didn't expect to have, at some point there's only so much you can do to get people off those flights.

NIALA: And I think the problem is, is it's been a crazy summer for airline travel. Not just talking about weather, but staffing issues resulting in thousands of delays. Is this the only way to hold airlines accountable for this?

ALEX: To some extent, yes, these fines from a government point of view are one of the only ways. Um, there's also though, you know, consumers can vote with their feet, vote with their dollars, but also that's limited by the fact that there are only so many airlines. You know, your choices are pretty limited.

NIALA: How has the summer been for customers compared to previous years?

ALEX: I think every summer it, it feels like it's been a bad summer. I think summer delays are actually usually worse than winter delays because thunderstorms are so disruptive to the air system. One big event really was, United had a lot of trouble in Newark at their hub, which, you know, when you've got trouble at your hub, that's going to disrupt the rest of your operations across the country as well.

NIALA: This weekend is the unofficial end of summer with Labor Day, which means one last weekend of travel. What should people expect?

ALEX: I think the number one thing is to be weather wise. Any of these major thunderstorms we get in late August can really disrupt travel across the country. Even if they affect just one city, as far as the weather goes, that's going to snarl operations across the country. Uh, and obviously you look at this hurricane that's coming up to Florida, that should pretty much be clear by the coming weekend, the holiday weekend. But it's really an example of what we can expect leading into the end of summer travel season.

NIALA: Alex Fitzpatrick writes the Axios What's Next newsletter. Thanks, Alex.

ALEX: Sure, thanks for having me.

NIALA: Finally today: summer is winding down, but we've still got another great batch of book recommendations as part of our summer reading series. Here's author Rebecca Makkai, author of the New York Times bestselling book "I Have Some Questions For You," and the Pulitzer Prize nominated novel "The Great Believers."

REBECCA MAKKAI: I have had a really busy summer of reading, and I'm gonna tell you about three books that I loved and that I think most readers would love too.

The first one is from a really long time ago. This is a book, a Turkish novel, translated into English from 1943. In case that sounds like it would be dry, it is not. It is called "Madonna in a Fur Coat," and the author is Sabahat Ali. And this is someone who wrote this book, and it came out to almost no response. And very soon after the author was murdered by the Turkish government. But, in the past five years, it's become one of the bestselling novels in Turkey. It's a love story. It challenges gender norms. It's wonderful.

Another book that came out this summer is "The Novel Loot" by Tanya James. It's about a young carpenter and toy maker who ends up working for a sultan in India, making the mechanical tiger that later ends up in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It's a saga from many different points of view. At one point, it's kind of a crime caper. It's really smart. It's absolutely beautiful.

And then the book that I just finished reading because I needed something light and refreshing, was "Romantic Comedy" by Curtis Sittenfeld. It is exactly what the title promises. It's a romantic comedy about a woman who works as a writer at what's basically "Saturday Night Live," just renamed, and it's a little bit of a quarantine love story, COVID love story.

But because Curtis Sittenfeld is such a beautiful writer, you don't feel cheap reading this. It's not cotton candy. It's like a really good dark chocolate bar.

NIALA: That's author Rebecca Makkai. We'll link all of her suggestions in our show notes. That's all we've got for you today! I'm Niala Boodhoo, thanks for listening, stay safe and we'll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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