WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation today fined Southwest Airlines $200,000 for violating the Department’s full-fare advertising rules and ordered the carrier to cease and desist from further violations. By violating the full-fare advertising rule in this case, Southwest Airlines also violated the cease and desist provision of a previous order. In doing so, the carrier was required to pay an additional $100,000, which was suspended from an order issued in July 2013.
“DOT’s full-fare advertising rules were put into place to ensure that consumers are not deceived when they search for plane tickets,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “Consumers have rights, and DOT will continue to take enforcement action against carriers and ticket agents when our price advertising rules are violated.”
In October 2013, Southwest ran a television advertisement on eight networks in the Atlanta area advertising $59 sale fares to New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago on certain dates. An investigation by DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office revealed that Southwest did not have any seats available for $59 between Atlanta and any of the three quoted cities on any of the applicable travel dates.
By advertising fares for which no seats were available at all, Southwest violated the full fare advertising rule and engaged in prohibited unfair and deceptive practices.
Today’s order and the order issued in 2013 both stem from violations of the same federal regulation, which requires that any advertisement or solicitation for air transportation that states a price for such transportation state the entire price to be paid. In both cases, Southwest advertised fares for which there were not a reasonable number of seats available. By violating the same regulation again within one year, Southwest also violated the cease and desist provision of the order issued in 2013, and was immediately required to pay $100,000, half of the original civil penalty which was suspended from the previous order.
The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2014-0001.