Since new U.S. Department of Transportation rules took effect in January requiring baggage and other fees to be prominently displayed, numerous airlines and travel websites have been slapped with fines. As with today's penalty for Orbitz, the offense is usually for temporarily hiding fees in a way that could mislead customers.
JetBlue landed itself a $90,000 penalty for not telling passengers they had the right to leave a plan while it was delayed at the gate for nearly three hours.
When you dive into the wording of these DOT fine announcements you can see how precise and thorough they investigate each case, and how a single error lead to fines of nearly $100,000.
Here are the full announcements from the DOT, first JetBlue, then Orbitz:
U.S. Department of Transportation Fines JetBlue for Not Informing Passengers of Opportunity to Leave Aircraft During Delay at Gate
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today said JetBlue Airways violated federal rules last March by not informing passengers on an aircraft delayed at New York’s JFK Airport that they had an opportunity to leave the plane as it sat at the gate with the door open. DOT fined JetBlue $90,000 and ordered the airline to cease and desist from further violations.
JetBlue violated a provision of the DOT’s new airline consumer protection rule requiring that if passengers on a delayed flight have the opportunity to leave the aircraft, the carrier must inform them that they can deplane. Announcements that passengers can leave the plane must come 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and every 30 minutes afterward.
“Airlines may not leave passengers stranded indefinitely aboard an aircraft, whether on the tarmac or at the gate, and passengers must be told if they are able to leave the plane,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “At DOT, we are committed to protecting consumers when they travel by air, and will continue to take enforcement action when our rules are violated.”
On March 3, 2012, JetBlue Flight 645 was scheduled to depart New York’s JFK Airport at 7:30 p.m. and arrive at San Francisco at 11:16 p.m. local time. Boarding began at 7:06 p.m., but the flight was delayed and the doors to the aircraft did not close until 9:55 p.m. An investigation by DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that passengers were not notified that they had the opportunity to leave the aircraft during this delay, even though the aircraft door was open and customers could have deplaned at any time. The Enforcement Office also found that JetBlue’s contingency plan for long tarmac delays did not contain the assurance, as required by the DOT rule, that passengers on delayed flights will receive notifications about the status of the delay every 30 minutes, including the reasons for the delay.
DOT’s new airline consumer protection rule, which took effect in August 2011, was adopted as part of the Department’s efforts to prevent passengers from being left for extended periods aboard aircraft. The new rule expanded DOT’s existing ban on tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights, which took effect in April 2010, by adding a four-hour limit for tarmac delays on international flights operating at U.S. airports. Exceptions to the tarmac-delay limits are allowed only for safety, security, and air traffic control-related reasons.
Orbitz Fined for Failing to Disclose Baggage Fees Properly
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined online ticket agent Orbitz $50,000 for violating the Department’s expanded airline passenger protection rule by failing to clearly and prominently inform consumers that they may have to pay baggage fees, and directed the company to cease and desist from further violations.
“Airline passengers should be able to determine the full cost of their trip, including baggage fees, quickly and easily,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “The Department adopted its rules on baggage fees to ensure that consumers have complete and accurate information about how much they will have to pay when they book a flight, and we will continue to take enforcement action when carriers and ticket agents fail to comply with our rules.”
Under a new DOT rule which took effect Jan. 24, carriers and ticket agents must disclose to consumers booking a flight that they may have to pay baggage fees in addition to the basic ticket price. When consumers book a flight on-line, carriers must clearly and prominently disclose on the first screen that offers a specific itinerary that additional baggage fees may apply and tell the consumer where they can view the fees. The rule applies to all airlines selling air transportation in the United States, including foreign carriers.
For a short period of time after Jan. 24, Orbitz’s website disclosed on the first webpage in which it offered fare quotations for specific itineraries that additional fees for baggage may apply and where consumers could see those fees. However, the location of the disclosure may have required consumers to scroll to the bottom of the first webpage, and therefore was not clear and prominent as required by DOT’s rule.
The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002.