The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined Thai Airways $70,000 for violating federal aviation laws and the Department’s rules prohibiting deceptive price advertising in air travel.
“Passengers deserve to know the full price they will have to pay for 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 for a period of time, consumers searching Thai Airways’ U.S. website for international round-trip flights originating in United States were not provided with information that would allow them to determine the full price to be paid at the first point fares were displayed during the booking process. Instead, consumers were initially provided with fares of varying amounts organized by departure and return date, along with a statement that total prices including taxes would be displayed during the next steps. The webpages displaying these fares did not provide any information describing additional taxes and fees, and consumers were not provided with the full fare amount until two pages later, just prior to purchasing the fare. Thai Airways also failed to include a fuel surcharge and insurance fee, both imposed by the carrier, in the initially advertised fares.
Thai Airways’ 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, so long as the link takes 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 and ticket agents will be required, among other things, to include all government taxes and fees in every advertised fare beginning January 24, 2012.