The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined the online ticket agent Orbitz $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 for air fares,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “We established airline price advertising rules to protect the consumer and will take enforcement action when these rules are violated.”
For a period of time in early 2011, Orbitz’s homepage displayed advertisements that did not provide any information on additional taxes and fees. Consumers clicking on an advertisement were not notified of the additional charges until after they arrived at the following page and scrolled down to the bottom of the page, where information in fine print about the taxes and fees could be found. Also, consumers selecting discounted fares advertised by Orbitz found that these fares were no longer available, and they were instead taken to a page where a different fare was displayed.
Ortbitz’s 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. In addition, a reasonable number of seats must be available at the advertised fare for the period the fare is being offered. The rules apply to ticket agents as well as airlines.
Under DOT’s recently adopted consumer rule that enhances protections for air travelers, carriers and ticket agents will be required, among other things, to include all government taxes and fees in every advertised fare beginning Jan. 24, 2012.