The U.S. Department of Transportation (usually referred to as DOT) released consent orders on Friday against Alaska, United, American, Air Canada and Southwest.
These airlines had failed to comply with the DOT rules that deal with involuntarily denied boarding and damaged/lost luggage. The DOT fined these airlines $35K to $45 each.
Here’s the DOT press release:
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines for providing inaccurate information to passengers about how much compensation they could potentially receive for being denied boarding against their will, or “bumped” on oversold flights, and for lost, damaged, or delayed baggage. Alaska Airlines was fined $40,000, American Airlines was fined $45,000, Southwest Airlines was fined $40,000, and United Airlines was fined $35,000. The airlines were also ordered to cease and desist from future similar violations.
“We are committed to ensuring that air travelers know the rules and have accurate information about compensation when they are bumped from flights and for lost, damaged, or delayed baggage,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Under DOT rules, passengers are eligible for compensation when they are involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight, the amount of which varies based on several factors including the planned arrival time of the substitute transportation arranged (or offered to be arranged). Air carriers must immediately provide passengers who are involuntarily bumped from a flight with a written statement explaining the terms, conditions, and limitations of denied boarding compensation, and describing the carriers’ boarding priority rules and criteria. Carriers must also provide the statement to any person upon request at all airport ticket selling positions, and at all boarding locations being used by the carrier.
DOT rules also prohibit U.S. airlines from limiting their liability for direct or consequential monetary damages that are reasonable, actual, and verifiable resulting from the loss of, damage to, or delay in delivering a passenger’s baggage in domestic transportation to an amount less than $3,500. Carriers must provide passengers with proper notice of the baggage liability limit on or with their tickets.
These consent orders are the result of an unprecedented series of inspections, “Task Force Lightning,” conducted at airports nationwide by the Department’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings. During these inspections, the Department found that Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines failed to provide passengers with the required notices or provided notices that were incomplete, outdated, or contained inaccurate information.
These fines are way too small to affect the behavior of these airlines. It is like DOT forgot to add 2 or 3 zeroes to the amounts that would have made them more reasonable.
Airlines do whatever they can to misclassify involuntarily denied boardings as voluntarily ones and not to inform passengers about their compensation and other rights. It always pays to be informed traveler and to know what one is entitled to.