DOT Fines JetBlue, Orbitz for Violating Air Transport, Fee Disclosure Rules
By James Shillinglaw
August 20, 2012 10:28 PM
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has fined JetBlue Airways $90,000 for violated federal aviation rules. It also fined Orbitz $50,000 for not informing customers about certain baggage fees on the airlines they had booked.
The DOT said that JetBlue last March failed to inform passengers on an aircraft delayed at New York’s JFK Airport that they had an opportunity to leave the plane as it sat at the gate with the door open.
JetBlue violated a provision of the DOT’s new airline consumer protection rule requiring that if passengers on a delayed flight have the opportunity to leave the aircraft, the carrier must inform them that they can deplane. Announcements that passengers can leave the plane must come 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and every 30 minutes afterward.
On March 3, 2012, JetBlue Flight 645 was scheduled to depart New York’s JFK Airport at 7:30 p.m. and arrive at San Francisco at 11:16 p.m. local time. Boarding began at 7:06 p.m., but the flight was delayed and the doors to the aircraft did not close until 9:55 p.m.
An investigation by DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that passengers were not notified that they had the opportunity to leave the aircraft during this delay, even though the aircraft door was open and customers could have deplaned at any time. The Enforcement Office also found that JetBlue’s contingency plan for long tarmac delays did not contain the assurance, as required by the DOT rule, that passengers on delayed flights will receive notifications about the status of the delay every 30 minutes, including the reasons for the delay.
DOT fined Orbitz for violating the government’s expanded airline passenger protection rule by failing to prominently inform consumers that they may have to pay baggage fees, and directed the company to cease and desist from further violations.
Under a new DOT rule, which took effect Jan. 24, carriers and ticket agents must disclose to consumers booking a flight that they may have to pay baggage fees in addition to the basic ticket price. When consumers book a flight on-line, carriers must clearly and prominently disclose on the first screen that offers a specific itinerary that additional baggage fees may apply and tell the consumer where they can view the fees. The rule applies to all airlines selling air transportation in the United States, including foreign carriers.
For a short period of time after Jan. 24, Orbitz’s website disclosed on the first webpage in which it offered fare quotations for specific itineraries that additional fees for baggage may apply and where consumers could see those fees. However, the location of the disclosure may have required consumers to scroll to the bottom of the first webpage, and therefore was not clear and prominent as required by DOT’s rule.