The DOT has fined fewer airlines this year. Should you be worried?

If it seems as if airlines are getting away with more passenger-unfriendly behavior, maybe it’s because they are.

The Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the Department of Transportation (DOT), which is responsible for enforcing federal consumer-protection regulations, is on track to punish significantly fewer airlines this year, issuing 18 consent orders for $3.1 million in civil penalties. By comparison, the DOT had 29 orders worth $6.4 million for 2016, which included a $1.6 million fine against American Airlines for violating its tarmac delay rules handed down in mid-December. Barring a last-minute flurry of penalties, 2017 will be a much quieter year for the department.

You’ve never heard of these people, but they’ve changed the way you fly

Their advocacy results in big, embarrassing airline fines. They’ve helped create federal agencies that make air travel safer. And they’ve brought competition and transparency to the skies.

Does penalizing airlines for customer service infractions do any good?

The Department of Transportation fined airlines $4.5 million and issued 23 consent orders in 2016. But it isn’t clear whether these actions are benefitting the passengers they’re supposed to protect. Industry watchers say the numbers don’t tell the full story — something you already know if you’ve flown this year.

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