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Did Southwest Lie About $59 Fares?

Southwest flights from Atlanta to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles for $59 each way were, as it turns out, too good to be true.

On Thursday, the Department of Transportation (DOT) declared that Southwest must pay $200,000 in fines for deceptive advertising. The carrier had promoted the $59 domestic flights in a TV ad that ran in Atlanta. But when customers tried to purchase tickets, no seats were available.

According to government regulations, airlines must keep a “reasonable number of seats” available for purchase when advertising fares; this is part of the DOT’s full-fare advertising rule. The DOT opened an investigation and found that there were no available seats for the advertised flights during the promotional period.

According to a statement issued by the airline, “As soon as we became aware of our mistake, we pulled all incorrect advertisements off the air.”

Southwest made a similar error last year when the airline promoted $66 fares from Dallas to Branson—without actually offering any available seats for flyers to book. On top of the $200,000 that the airline must pay, the DOT levied an additional $100,000 charge, which had been suspended after the 2013 violation.

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