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DOT Fines Airlines for Not Disclosing Compensation Details

SmarterTravel

Four airlines—United, American, Southwest, and Alaska—have been fined by the Department of Transportation (DOT) 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.”

The fines are small and mostly symbolic, ranging from a low of $35,000 for United and topping out at $45,000 for American. The airlines were also ordered to cease and desist from similar violations in the future.

What, specifically, did these carriers do? The DOT doesn’t specifically say. However, in a press release the DOT does list several rules airlines must follow, which certainly seems to suggest these were the rules that were not followed:

  • “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.”
  • “Provide the statement to any person upon request at all airport ticket selling positions, and at all boarding locations being used by the carrier.”
  • Airlines are also prohibited from “limiting their liability … from the loss of, damage to, or delay in delivering a passenger’s baggage in domestic transportation to an amount less than $3,500” and must “provide passengers with proper notice of the baggage liability limit on or with their tickets.”

“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,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in the release. The fines are the result of what the DOT calls “an unprecedented series of inspections” that found all four carriers “failed to provide passengers with the required notices or provided notices that were incomplete, outdated, or contained inaccurate information.”

So, basically, these four airlines were playing it fast and loose when it came to keeping passengers informed of their basic rights as paying customers. The fines, as mentioned, are minor, but there is value in drawing attention both to these airlines’ apparent negligence and the DOT’s diligence on behalf of the traveling public.

Readers, have you ever been bumped? Has your baggage been lost or damaged? Did you feel your airline provided you with adequate (and correct) information?

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