Government set record for airline fines in 2012 — is that good news for passengers?

vapor trailA more activist Transportation Department, which set a record in 2011 for the number of fines it issued against airlines for violating aviation consumer protection rules, appears to have maintained its momentum this past year.

In 2012, the Department issued 49 fines for consumer rule violations and assessed $3,610,000 in penalties, exceeding the previous record of 47 fines and $3,264,000 in penalties issued in 2011.

Among its most significant actions: policing new rules that require airlines and travel agencies to quote a full fare and disclose baggage fees, and fining the first foreign airline for a tarmac delay.

“Consumers deserve to be treated fairly when they fly,” says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who called protecting air travelers’ rights “a high priority.”
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TSA threatens to fine passenger who refuses full-body scan

As the TSA’s use of full-body scanners turns into a national debate, it appears the agency is taking a harder line against passengers who resist.

Last week, TSA agents in Florida allegedly handcuffed a passenger to her chair after she refused both a full-body scan and a pat-down. (Surveillance video of the incident called parts of her story into question.)

And yesterday, a traveler at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport who declined the full-body scan and agreed to be frisked, but complained about the invasive procedure, was threatened with a fine.

It happened to Karen Cummings, the same woman who received an enhanced pat-down when it was being tested in Boston this spring.

If the threat against her is part of TSA’s new enhanced pat-down protocol, then this is a troubling shift in policy that is only likely to intensify the discussion about the use of full-body scanners.
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Travel agency whacked with $200,000 fine for offering “free” flights with Sandals vacations

The best things in life may be free, but that apparently doesn’t extend to the airfare on your all-inclusive vacation, at least according to the government.

The Transportation Department this morning fined Unique Vacations $200,000 for promoting “free” airfares in connection with its Sandals packages, when, in fact, customers would sometimes be required to pay airline fuel surcharges.

Here’s the consent order (PDF).

That’s illegal, says the government. Any advertising that states a price for air transportation or an air tour is considered to be an unfair or deceptive practice unless the price stated is the entire price to be paid by the customer to the air carrier or ticket agent for such air transportation, tour or tour component, according to the Transportation Department.
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Unbelievable! Airline fined for … operating an airline without a license?

Here’s something you don’t see every day: A $30,000 government fine against a company called City Skies for operating an airline without economic authority from the Transportation Department.

In other words, the airline had a little paperwork problem. Here’s the consent order (PDF).

Running an airline without authority is illegal, obviously.
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Delta fined $100,000 for misleading baggage brochure

Federal law says an airline can’t limit its liability for lost, damaged or delayed baggage to less than $3,300 per passenger. But if you’re flying on Delta Air Lines, you might have thought otherwise.

Even after the Transportation Department issued an industry notice (.DOC) last October, reminding airlines that they couldn’t cap their compensation, Delta allegedly distributed a pamphlet that said it “will not authorize any expense reimbursement” when a passenger’s delayed baggage is expected to reach the passenger within 24 hours.

The brochure also said the carrier’s liability is capped at $25 per day “for necessities after the first 24 hours up to a maximum of USD 125 per ticketed customer” while a passenger is away from his or her permanent residence.

The government has fined Delta $100,000 for distributing the brochure months after its advisory. Here’s the consent order (.PDF).
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