USA: DOT fines ticket agent and Qantas for advertising violations
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) fined ticket agent Unister USA, also known as Flights24.com, USD 30,000 for violating the Department’s rules on fare advertising and disclosure of code-share flights. 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.
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.
In another case, the DOT assessed a civil penalty of USD 40,000 against Qantas Airways for violating federal aviation laws and the Department’s rules prohibiting deceptive price advertising in air travel. For a period of time in the fall of last year, Qantas displayed advertisements on numerous websites that did not provide any information on additional taxes and fees. Even after consumers clicking on the advertised fare were taken to a page on the carrier’s website where sample routes and prices were displayed, the type and amounts of additional taxes and fees could be seen only if a consumer scrolled to the bottom of the page.
The consent orders are available at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002.