The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today assessed a civil penalty against TACA International Airlines for violating the Department’s rules prohibiting deceptive advertising of airfares. The company was assessed a $55,000 civil penalty.
“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.”
DOT requires any advertising that includes a price for air transportation to state the full price to be paid by the consumer. The only exception, which will end on Oct. 24 due to a recently adopted DOT rule, is for government-imposed taxes and fees that are assessed on a per-passenger basis, such as passenger facility charges. If these taxes and fees are listed separately, the first mention in an advertisement of a fare must clearly disclose that the price does not include these charges and list their amounts. For Internet listings, these taxes and fees may be disclosed through a prominent link next to the stated fare that notes that taxes and fees are extra, and takes viewers directly to a location where the type and amount of the charges is displayed. The rules apply to both U.S. and foreign carriers as well as ticket agents.
For a period of time in 2010 and this year, TACA used a program on its website that allowed consumers to search for flights on exact or flexible dates. Searches by both methods produced airfare quotes noting that the fares did not include taxes and fees, but TACA failed to disclose the type and amount of the taxes and fees as required by DOT rules.
The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2011-0003.