US Airways fined $40,000 for failing to disclose full airfares

In yet another sign that the Transportation Department is serious about protecting the rights of consumers, the government this morning fined US Airways $40,000 for failing to disclose the full price consumers must pay for air transportation.

“When consumers shop for air travel, they have a right to know how much they will have to pay,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a prepared statement, adding, “We will continue to ensure that airlines comply with our price advertising rules.”

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Here’s the full consent order (PDF).

The DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that when consumers searched US Airways’ site for one-way flights sorted by schedule, US Airways offered a set of fares that did not include additional applicable taxes and fees, or any notice on that page that these additional charges would be required.

The government requires the full fare to either be listed on the first screen that provides fare quotes, or that the existence of additional government-imposed per-passenger charges must be prominently disclosed along with a hyperlink that takes consumers to a page that describes the additional charges.

A US Airways spokesman said the fare problem was “wholly unintentional and the result of an inadvertent programming error,” adding, “US Airways believes that no consumer purchased a ticket without full knowledge of the total price before the entry of a credit card number.” Its full response is also included in the consent order.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this consent order is buried a few pages deep:

For a short period of time, on US Airways’ Internet website, when consumers initiated searches for one-way airfares sorted by schedule, US Airways presented them with a set of fares corresponding to their search parameters that did not include additional taxes and fees.

However, US Airways did not provide consumers any notice on that page that additional taxes and fees would be applicable to these airfares.

By failing to provide any notice of the existence, nature and amount of the taxes and fees applicable to these fares at the first point the fare was disclosed to consumers, US Airways violated 14 CFR 399.84 and engaged in an unfair or deceptive practice and unfair method of competition in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 41712.

Did they say “for a short period of time”? How short? US Airways tells me it was “a few” weeks.

Airlines should be quoting a price that includes everything, including taxes and any required fees, of course. But DOTs rules still allow a carrier to break out the taxes in an initial quote. Maybe that needs to be changed.

(Photo: Willamor Media/Flickr Creative Commons)

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