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DOT Fines Ticket Agent for Advertising, Code-Share Disclosure Violations

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined ticket agent Unister USA, also known as Flights24.com, $30,000 for violating the Department’s rules on fare advertising and disclosure of code-share flights. 

“Protecting the rights of air travelers is a priority for DOT,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “We will continue our work to make sure that airlines and ticket agents treat consumers fairly when they fly.”

An investigation by the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that, from at least July 2011 through October 2011, ads on Unister’s website failed to disclose at the first point fares were displayed that additional taxes and fees would be imposed, including Unister’s service fee.  Unister’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, only 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 they 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 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 Enforcement Office also found that Unister violated the Department’s code-share disclosure rule.  Under code-sharing, an airline will sell tickets on flights that use its designator code, but are operated by a separate airline.  DOT requires airlines and ticket agents to inform consumers, before they book a flight, if the flight is operated under a code-share arrangement, as well as disclose the corporate name of the transporting carrier and any other name under which the flight is offered to the public.  From at least July through September 2011, Unister failed to disclose the name of the carrier providing the transportation when advertising code-share flights on its website.
The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012