The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined AirTran Airways $60,000 for violating federal aviation laws and the Department’s rules prohibiting deceptive price advertising in air travel.
“Consumers have a right to know the full price they will be paying when they buy an airline ticket,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We will continue to take enforcement action when our airline price advertising rules are violated.”
DOT rules require any advertising that includes a price for air transportation to state the full price to be paid by the consumer, including all carrier-imposed surcharges. The only exceptions currently allowed are government-imposed taxes and fees that are assessed on a per-passenger basis, such as passenger facility charges, which may be stated separately from the advertised fare but must be clearly disclosed in the advertisement so that passengers can easily determine the full price they must pay. Internet fare listings may disclose these separate taxes and fees through a prominent link next to the fare stating that government taxes and fees are extra, and the link must take the viewer directly to information where the type and amount of taxes and fees are displayed.
For a period of time in the fall of 2011, AirTran displayed an advertisement on a number of websites advertising $59 one-way fares. The advertisement noted that additional taxes, fees and exclusions would apply, but with no information on the type or amount of taxes or fees. A consumer clicking on the advertisement was taken to a page on AirTran’s website where a list of routes and prices were displayed. Consumers were not provided details about the taxes and fees until they scrolled to the bottom of the page where the information appeared in fine print.
Under DOT’s recently adopted consumer rule that enhances protections for air travelers, carriers will be required, among other things, to include all government taxes and fees in every advertised fare beginning Jan. 26, 2012.
The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002.