Court Upholds Airline Passenger Protections

A major decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in favor of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in the case of Spirit Airlines, Inc. v. United States Department of Transportation earned praise from DOT Secretary Ray LaHood

Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air and Southwest Airlines challenged portions of the Department's April 2011 air passenger consumer protection rule requiring airlines and ticket agents to include all mandatory taxes and fees in published airfares, hold a reservation without payment or penalty for 24 hours after the reservation is made and prohibit post purchase baggage price increases after the initial ticket sale.

“Airline passengers have the right to all necessary information when choosing their flights so that they can make the most informed decisions to fit their needs,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Today’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals strengthens our effort to help air travelers receive the respect they deserve.”

The DOT noted that court ruled that it was reasonable for DOT to require airlines to add government fees and taxes to the base fare and disclose these together as a total price, prominently displayed to prevent confusion over the total cost of their travel.

As the court noted: ”Based on common sense and over three decades of experience and complaints, DOT concluded that it was deceitful and misleading when the most prominent price listed by an airline was anything other than the total final price of air travel.”

Further, the DOT noted that the court concluded that the rule properly regulates airline cancellation policies because existing airline cancellation and refund practices were deceptive and unfair, and that the regulation was “plainly allowed” under DOT’s statute that targets unfair and deceptive practices.

Finally, the court ruled that it was reasonable for DOT to conclude that increasing the prices for baggage after the purchase of a ticket amounts to an unfair consumer practice.

The DOT said the new requirements are among the final provisions from DOT’s most recent airline consumer rule. DOT is looking at other airline consumer protection measures for a possible future rulemaking, including requiring that all airline optional fees be disclosed wherever consumers can book a flight, strengthening disclosure of code-share flights, and requiring additional carriers to file on-time performance reports.