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DOT Fines Finnair for Violating Price Advertising Rules

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today assessed a civil penalty of $35,000 against Finnair for violating federal aviation laws and the Department’s rules prohibiting deceptive price advertising in air travel.

"Consumers need to trust that what they see is what they get when it comes to purchasing an airline ticket,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.  “DOT will continue to protect consumers by taking enforcement action when our price advertising rules are violated."

For a period of time in the fall of last year, Finnair displayed three fare advertisements on its website that made no mention of additional taxes and fees that applied to these fares.  Instead, once consumers clicked on the advertisements, they were taken to a page on the carrier’s website where taxes and fees were displayed in the fine print at the bottom of the page.  In one of the three advertisements, consumers could not see the fine print unless they happened to scroll to the bottom of the page.

Finnair’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.  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 recently adopted consumer rule that enhances protections for air travelers, carriers and ticket agents have been required to include all government taxes and fees in every advertised fare since Jan. 26.  DOT’s airline price advertising rules apply to both U.S. and foreign carriers as well as ticket agents.

The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002. 

Friday, January 27, 2012