DOT to Audit Travel Agent Code Share Compliance, ASTA Warns

travel agentPaul Ruden, senior vice president of legal & industry affairs for the American Society of Travel Agent (ASTA), urged travel agents to comply fully with any Department of  Transportation (DOT) inquiries on code sharing disclosure compliance.

"The financial  costs of penalties for noncompliance are  enormous," Ruden said of the DOT's probe of top agencies. Earlier this month, ASTA warned its members that the DOT has initiated a project to make test calls to the top ten brick and mortar travel agencies by revenue.

"If the DOT is looking at the top agencies, this will include ASTA members," Ruden told Travel Agent, urging agency managers to fully inform their own staffs of DOT policy and the critical importance of compliance.

The audits, Ruden said, are prompted by the DOT's concerns over safety issues and the departments ongoing effort to inform the traveling public of code sharing rules. Ruden said ASTA will continue to monitor the DOT's program.

The DOT’s Office of Inspector General Audit Report on the Growth of Domestic Airline Code Sharing noted that “further action is needed to improve the information that consumers use to make ticketing decisions. Without these improvements, it will become increasingly difficult for regulators to monitor the economic and safety impacts of code share relationships and for consumers to easily understand which carrier is operating their flight.”

A key recommendation was to determine how the Department could take a more active role by increase sampling of travel agents for code share disclosure to improve compliance with current DOT regulations.

The DOT, the report noted, “does not actively survey traditional travel agents for compliance with code share disclosure regulations, although they account for about $60 billion of total air travel sales. Current law requires that travel agents provide disclosure of code share travel both orally to passengers before booking transportation and in written itineraries," DOT said.

“We found that travel agents do not consistently provide verbal disclosure of code share flights. For example, 14 of 16 travel agents we randomly contacted failed to disclose or properly identify the operator of code share flights—even after being asked to identify the name of the actual operating carrier," DOT said.

"In most of those cases, the travel agents actually provided incorrect information regarding which carrier was operating the flight. This would seem to indicate that the public could benefit from enhanced OST oversight of this segment of the ticketing industry," DOT said.