Truth in Advertising Comes to Airline Ticket Pricing This Week

 - January 23, 2012, 5:21 PM
Spirit Airlines has, along with other low-fare carriers, challenged the DOT's new passenger protection rules. (Photo: Spirit Airlines)

New provisions to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) passenger-protection rule become effective January 24 and 26, among them a requirement that airlines and ticket agents include all government taxes and fees in advertised ticket prices. The DOT has already implemented some aspects of the passenger-protection rule it issued last April, notably the inclusion of foreign carriers in limiting tarmac delays at U.S. airports.

The new rule builds upon passenger protections issued by the DOT in December 2009 and applied in 2010. The earlier regulation prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from keeping an aircraft on the tarmac for longer than three hours and requires airlines to provide basic services, such as access to lavatories and water, during extended tarmac delays. An update to that rule, which took effect last August, expanded the tarmac provision to include foreign as well as domestic carriers operating from U.S. airports. Tarmac delays for international flights cannot exceed four hours, with exceptions for safety, security or ATC-related reasons.

Provisions relating to price increases, reservations, flight-status notifications and baggage fees start on January 24, while the so-called “full-fare advertising” rule takes effect on January 26. Previously, the DOT did not require airlines to include government taxes and fees in their fare quotations.

Low-fare carriers Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air and Southwest are contesting aspects of the passenger protection rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Spirit, based in Miramar, Fla., issued a statement last June saying it would “continue to resist efforts by regulators that go beyond reasonable consumer protections to impose higher costs on airlines.”

Among contested measures, the airline said it would challenge the full-fare provision and a requirement that airlines hold reservations at the quoted fare without payment for at least 24 hours after the reservation is made, as long the customer reserves the ticket one week or more before the departure date. A Spirit spokeswoman declined to comment on the appeal, which remains pending.

Meanwhile, the DOT continued its practice of penalizing airlines for violating advertising rules regarding ticket prices. The agency announced on January 18 that it had fined Icelandair $50,000 for violating its rule that airlines “prominently disclose” all potential fees on their websites.

Last fall, Icelandair ran Internet advertisements for flights to Iceland and Europe for $429. “Next to the fare was an asterisk but no further information, and the website contained no information about any additional taxes,” the agency said.