The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined Ethiopian Airlines $50,000 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 price advertising rules are violated.”
The Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that in early 2011, search results through one of two booking paths on the Ethiopian Airlines website did not display the entire price the first time the fare was displayed for international flights originating in the United States. When consumers searched flights by fare, they were shown a fare that, according to the site, was subject to additional taxes and fees. However, consumers were not provided with information to determine the full price until just before purchasing the fare, two webpages after the page displaying the initially quoted lower fare. In addition, the fare that was first displayed failed to include a significant fuel surcharge imposed by the carrier.
Ethiopian Airlines’ website violated DOT rules requiring 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 exception currently allowed is 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. These requirements apply to both U.S. and foreign carriers.
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. 24, 2012.