USA: DOT fines Spirit Airlines over handling of disability complaints and Finnair for violating price advertising rules
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) fined Spirit Airlines USD 100,000 for failing to appropriately record and respond to complaints about the carrier’s treatment of passengers with disabilities, violating DOT’s rules implementing the Air Carrier Access Act which prohibits discrimination in air travel on the basis of disability. Under DOT’s rules, carriers must sort disability-related complaints into categories based on the type of disability and nature of the complaint, and submit an annual report to the Department on disability complaints received the previous year. Each issue raised in a complaint must be recorded separately to account for the total number of complaints a carrier receives. The Department compiles carrier reports, publishes them on the Internet for consumers to compare, and submits them as required by Congress. In addition, if an airline receives a written complaint alleging a violation of the Department’s disability rules, the carrier must provide a written response within 30 days that specifically discusses the complaint, gives the carrier’s view of whether a violation occurred, and states that the complaint may be referred to DOT for an investigation.
However, a review of disability-related complaints received by Spirit in calendar year 2009 showed that Spirit violated the Department’s rules by failing to adequately categorize and account for all the disability-related issues that were raised, leading to an undercounting of the actual number of complaints in the carrier’s annual report to DOT. In addition, Spirit failed to provide adequate responses to a vast majority of the disability-related complaints it received in 2009 and 2010.
In other matters, the DOT assessed a civil penalty of USD 35,000 against Finnair for violating federal aviation laws and the Department’s rules prohibiting deceptive price advertising in air travel. 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 as 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.
The related consent orders are available at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002.