Travelers step out of a shuttle bus near the car rental facility at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Airlines kept passengers waiting on the tarmac a record number of times last year, despite fines from the federal government, The Points Guy (TPG) reported Wednesday.

Many of those delays couldn’t be helped, having been caused by bad weather and record numbers of travelers taking to the skies.

But the increase could also be because the federal government has been less than aggressive in using penalties against the airline industry, the travel website says.

TPG, citing data from the U.S. Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, said 244 flights were delayed at least three hours in the first 11 months of 2018. That’s compared with 164 the previous year — and only 39 delays in 2014.

The Transportation Department has the authority to impose fines of up to $27,500 per passenger for tarmac delays that last for at least three hours on domestic flights or four hours on international flights. The agency began levying the fines in 2010 following years of consumer complaints about the practice, particularly after an epic delay caused by an ice storm on Valentine’s Day in 2007. Hundreds of JetBlue Airways passengers spent that day stuck without food aboard aircraft at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Weeks earlier, an American Airlines aircraft stranded passengers for eight hours in Texas.

TPG says airlines worked to minimize tarmac delays after the government crackdown — and it’s still well below what it was before the Transportation Department started fining the carriers — but an analysis of data shows the number has been creeping higher in the past five years.

Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, told TPG that the government is not doing enough to inhibit lengthy tarmac delays, while the airlines have started pressuring passengers to stick it out or face the consequences.

“The biggest maneuver airlines are now using is to tell passengers after three hours they can exit but will not be allowed to re-board or retrieve their baggage,” Hudson was quoted as saying. “They will also be separated from their baggage if the flight departs.”

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