The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has released a new guidance document for travel agencies that operate Internet flight-search tools that addresses how agencies should disclose the carriers they do not market in their search results, according to ASTA.
The document states that the DOT will consider it an unfair practice for a travel agent to simply report that “no flight exists that matches” the consumer’s criteria, when in reality the flight does exist, but the agency does not offer it. There might be carriers whose services were not searched by the agent’s search engine but that might have flights that match the criteria, ASTA explained. While travel agents are not required to include flights from all airlines in search processes, consumers may be misled by the simple “no flights exist” message, when there such flights are available, according to the DOT.
Among the search results language that the DOT will consider unfair or deceptive if an airline is not being marketed by a travel agent but still offers a flight matching the consumer’s search criteria are: “no flights are available,” “no nonstop flights are available,” “no flights match your search criteria,” and “no results were found.”
“A ticket agent could lawfully use such language only when no airline -- including those not covered by the online search -- offers a flight matching a consumer’s criteria,” the DOT said. DOT has provided a 90-day window, starting Aug. 19, for travel agencies with search engines to comply with the guidance, according to ASTA.