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Airlines Misbehave More, Pay More Fines

Since beefing up consumer-protection rules in 2010, the number of citations issued against U.S. airlines by the Department of Transportation has nearly doubled.

That's according to the L.A. Times, which reviewed federal records for the 2010 - 2013 period.

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After the more stringent rules were put in place, the average number of citations rose to an average of 54 per year, versus 28 per year previously.

The most common violation: unfair and deceptive practices, in particular the failure to fully disclose fees and taxes associated with published airfares.

Of the airline offenders, the most heavily fined were the following:

  • Delta - $2.9 million in fines
  • United - $1.7 million in fines
  • US Airways - $1.2 million in fines
  • American - $1.1 million in fines
  • JetBlue - $600,000 in fines
  • Southwest - $600,000 in fines

The new-for-2010 DOT passenger-protection rules were drawn up in response to escalating complaints from travelers about the airlines' ancillary fees, and a spate of hours-long tarmac delays that seemed to epitomize the airlines' callous disregard for their customers' comfort and rights.

With the airlines flying full planes and reporting record profits, the fines—at less than $1 million per year for the worst offender, Delta—amount to a miniscule percentage of their revenues. Hardly a meaningful disincentive to continue misleading and mistreating their customers. Bigger fines might help, but there's no guarantee.

On many measures of financial performance, Delta is currently the industry leader. And it also racks up the most fines. That such an economic contradiction can exist suggests that the system is broken.

Perhaps if the DOT did a better job of publicizing the misbehavior, the unflattering publicity would shame the offenders into mending their ways, for fear of losing business.

It's worth a try.

Reader Reality Check

How can the airlines' unsavory ways be reigned in?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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