DOT Fines Air China and FlightHub Group for Violating Aviation Consumer Protection Rules
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT or Department) took action today to protect aviation consumers by issuing fines to an airline and an online ticket agent for violating federal statutes and the Department’s aviation consumer protection rules. DOT fined the airline Air China $300,000 for tarmac delay rule violations and fined ticket agent FlightHub Group $300,000 for misrepresentations on its website and in online advertising. Both entities were also ordered to cease and desist from future similar violations.
“DOT will hold airlines and ticket agents accountable when they treat consumers unfairly,” said U.S. Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg. “These fines should serve as a warning to all airlines and online ticket agents that the Department will take enforcement action against violations of aviation consumer protection rules.”
An investigation by the Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) found that in 2018, Air China allowed two international flights to remain on the tarmac at JFK airport in New York for over five hours without providing passengers an opportunity to deplane, in violation of the Department’s tarmac delay rule. In January 2018, a flight from Beijing to JFK containing 192 passengers remained on the tarmac for five hours and 18 minutes, and in November 2018, a flight from New York JFK to Beijing containing 279 passengers remained on the tarmac for five hours and 21 minutes.
Under the DOT tarmac delay rule, airlines are generally prohibited from allowing their international flights to remain on the tarmac for more than four hours at U.S. airports without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane. Exceptions exist for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons and for departure delays if the airline begins to return the aircraft to a suitable disembarkation point to deplane passengers within the allotted time. The rule also requires 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 rule prohibiting long tarmac delays for domestic flights took effect in 2010 and was expanded to include international flights in 2011.
A separate investigation by the Department’s OACP found that FlightHub Group and its brand JustFly.com violated the Department’s aviation consumer protection rules and federal law prohibiting unfair and deceptive practices by ticket agents with misleading online advertising displays. OACP found that FlightHub Group advertised prices for air transportation that were not available, thus failing to state the entire price to be paid for air transportation in advertisements. In addition, OACP found that FlightHub Group made misrepresentations regarding fares, cancellation charges, and ticket refunds in connection with air transportation, and provided inaccurate information on the applicable fee for checked baggage in e-ticket confirmations. The violations addressed in the order occurred during the years prior to FlightHub Group restructuring in 2021 under Canadian bankruptcy law. The $300,000 penalty assessed against Flight Hub Group is the highest civil penalty OACP has assessed against a ticket agent.
Today’s announcement builds upon recent action taken by the Department to protect airline consumers from unfair and deceptive practices.
The consent orders are available at www.regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2022-0001.