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DoT Fines Airlines for Violating Consumer Protection Guidelines

— July 25, 2017

The United States Department of Transportation imposed fines against two of the country’s largest air carriers earlier in the week, claiming they’d violated consumer protection guidelines.

American Airlines and Delta agreed to pay the fines, which were released by the government in a Friday evening report.

Budget-carrier Frontier Airlines was also hit by the same round of penalties, which will cost the three companies hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

USA Today reported that American was struck with fines for running afoul of consumer protection regulations related to the timeliness with which refunds should be issued.

Following a merger with US Airways and subsequent systems switchover, American struggled to issue refunds to passengers in the first half of 2015. Numerus customers had reportedly contacted the Department of Transportation, complaining of the lengthy waits they’d endured while trying to recover money from canceled fares.

Federal guidelines mandate that airlines must issue refunds within seven days of a request, contingent on what method was used to book a fare. American’s failure to comply cost it $250,000.

“We took proactive steps to address refund delays some customers experienced in 2015 due to a systems integration issue after the merger with US Airways, including investments to improve processing times,” said Shannon Gilson, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, on Saturday.

Delta was fined on separate grounds, with the Department of Transportation acting on a slew of consumer complaints regarding mishandled and misplaced baggage.

The agency requires that airlines like Delta compile monthly reports detailing how often baggage is damaged or lost in transit. After the Department of Transportation concluded that Delta had been underreporting the number of complaints it received, the DoT slapped the international company with a $200,000 penalty fine.

Delta responded Saturday by pledging to provide “full transparency to the status and location of checked bags,” adding that they’d created a new tracking feature for their FlyDelta app.

A Delta aircraft on the ground. Image courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, USA Today.

Smaller and less lucrative carrier Frontier took the biggest blow of the three, being charged $400,000 for involuntarily bumping passengers from overbooked flights and then shorting them on compensation.

Airlines are typically required to pay passengers who have checked-in and received a seat assignment “denied boarding compensation” when they’re asked to deboard the flight.

The amount of compensation offered varies by airline, but usually, at minimum, corresponds to the cash value of the passenger’s fare.

The Department of Transportation probe also found that Frontier didn’t provide necessary assistance to disabled passengers, who should be offered assistance navigating airports, boarding their flights, and exiting aircraft upon arrival to their destination.

While Frontier committed to providing “every effort” to assist disabled passengers, it dodged the Department of Transportation’s findings by refusing to acknowledge the grounds upon which the fine had been imposed.

Although many of the DoT’s fines were based on mishaps from years prior, airlines in the United States have come under increased scrutiny after several high-profile incidents attracted media coverage in late spring and early summer.

United Airlines’ manhandling of a physician who refused to give up his seat on an overbooked flight was caught on video, with the footage later going viral.

The fallout from the incident is still affecting carriers, with congressional subcommittees working on bills and amendments – such as minimum seat sizes – to protect passengers from an industry increasingly viewed as aloof and predatory.


U.S. Fines American, Delta, and Frontier Airlines Over Passengers’ Complaints

U.S. fines American, Frontier and Delta for consumer rules violations

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