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DOT Fines Allegiant Air for Violating DOT Airline Disability, Price Advertising Rules

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined Allegiant Air $100,000 for violating rules protecting air travelers with disabilities, as well as the Department’s rule for full-fare advertising. 
         
“We adopted our rules on reporting of disability complaints and advertising of airfares to protect consumers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “Protecting the rights of airline passengers is a high priority for DOT, and we will take enforcement action when our rules are violated.”

Under DOT’s rule, carriers must sort disability-related complaints into categories based on the type of disability and nature of the complaint and submit an annual report to the Department on disability complaints received the previous year.  Each issue raised in a complaint must be recorded separately to account for the total number of complaints a carrier receives.  The Department compiles carrier reports, publishes them on the Internet for consumers to compare, and submits them to Congress as required by law.  In addition, if an airline receives a written complaint alleging a violation of the Department’s disability rules, the carrier must provide a written response within 30 days that specifically discusses the complaint, gives the carrier’s view of whether a violation occurred, and states that the complaint may be referred to DOT for an investigation.

The Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office reviewed a sample of the disability-related complaints that Allegiant received directly from passengers in 2009 and 2010, as well as disability complaints against Allegiant that the Department received directly from passengers during 2009 and 2010.  The Department found that in a number of instances, Allegiant responded to the complaints through a telephone call rather than in writing as required by the rule, and that the carrier both failed to record all of the disability complaints it received and to properly categorize and account for all the issues that were raised in the complaints. 

In addition, the Enforcement Office found that Allegiant violated DOT’s price advertising rule by posting offers on its homepage for free flights to Las Vegas and Tampa Bay, Fla.   The banner for the Las Vegas ads did not indicate that taxes and fees would be extra.  Although an asterisk appeared after the words “Fly Free,” there was no information on taxes and fees on the page where the asterisk appeared, and there was no hyperlink that took consumers to a description of required taxes and fees.  Instead, once consumers clicked on the link, they were taken to a page where they could see the amount of taxes and fees only after scrolling to the bottom of the page.  For the Las Vegas and Tampa ads, Allegiant also failed to include its fee of $14.99 for tickets purchased anywhere except at one of the carrier’s airport ticket offices in the initial fare quote provided on the website as required by DOT. 

These ads violated the Department’s rule requiring ads for airfares to identify the existence and amount of government-imposed taxes and fees at the first point a fare is displayed and to include in the initial fare quotes appearing on the website all carrier-imposed fees that passengers must pay to make on-line bookings.  Until Jan. 26, 2012, government-imposed taxes and fees assessed on a per-passenger basis, such as passenger facility charges, could be stated separately from the advertised fare but had to be clearly disclosed in the advertisement so that passengers could easily determine the full price to be paid.  Internet fare listings were permitted to disclose these separate taxes and fees through a prominent link next to the fare stating that government taxes and fees were extra, and the link had to take the viewer directly to information where the type and amount of taxes and fees were displayed. 

Under DOT’s new advertising rule, which became effective on Jan. 26, 2012, carriers and ticket agents must show the total price, including all government taxes and fees, in every advertised fare.  The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012