The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined Virgin Atlantic Airways, an airline based in the United Kingdom, $50,000 for violating federal aviation laws and the Department’s rules prohibiting deceptive price advertising in air travel.
“When passengers buy an airline ticket, they have a right to know the full price they will have to pay,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We expect airlines to treat their passengers fairly and will take enforcement action when our price advertising rules are violated.”
For a period of time, Virgin Atlantic displayed advertisements on the Internet that did not provide direct access to information on taxes and fees that were in addition to the base fare. Instead, consumers who clicked on the advertised fare were taken to a page showing sample routes and prices where the type and amount of taxes and fees could be found in fine print only after scrolling to the bottom of the page.
Virgin Atlantic’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. The only exception currently allowed is government-imposed taxes and fees that are assessed on a per-passenger basis, such as passenger facility charges, which may be stated separately from the advertised fare but must be clearly disclosed in the advertisement so that passengers can easily determine the full price they must pay. Internet fare listings may disclose these separate taxes and fees through a prominent link next to the fare stating that government taxes and fees are extra, and the link must take the viewer directly to information where the type and amount of taxes and fees are displayed. The rules apply to both U.S. and foreign carriers as well as ticket agents.
Under DOT’s recently adopted consumer rule that enhances protections for air travelers, carriers and ticket agents will be required, among other things, to include all government taxes and fees in every advertised fare beginning Jan. 24, 2012.