On March 27, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings (the “Enforcement Office”) continued its activist pursuit of hyper-technical violations of the DOT’s hallowed full fare advertising regulation, 14 CFR § 399.84(a), fining Virgin Atlantic $30,000 for a technically imperfect heading. Nearly three years ago consumer Benjamin Edelman filed an administrative complaint alleging that Virgin Atlantic impermissibly listed government taxes, fees and carrier-imposed surcharges on a webpage under the heading: “Taxes”. DOT’s full fare advertising regulation states that an advertised airfare which does not state the entire price to be paid by the customer shall be deemed an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 41712.
Notably, Virgin is not accused of failing to advertise its all-in price. Rather, it appears that the technically inaccurate heading was used on one of the separate, accompanying breakdowns of that all-in price, a wrong the Enforcement Office spent nearly three years righting. Putting aside the hypocrisy that it is this heading that is found deceptive while the regulation requires airlines to hide from the consumer the astounding tax portion of the fare (often as high as 20%), the lesson is clear: every place an airfare is advertised or displayed should be meticulously reviewed for compliance. DOT will find even the most minor of deviations from the regulations. If it doesn’t, Mr. Edelman will.
To review the Consent Order, click here.