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Department of Transportation fines Southwest

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Posted: Friday, August 2, 2013 2:08 pm

The U.S. Department of Transportation fined Southwest Airlines $200,000 Tuesday for advertising $66 airfares to Branson Airport, however the airline failed to provide any seats at that price.

Southwest Spokeswoman Michelle Agnew said the error was due to a technical problem and was unintentional.

“Consumers should be able to trust that the price they see advertised is the price they’ll pay for a seat,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the press release. “(The Department of Transportation) will continue to take enforcement action against carriers and ticket agents when our price advertising rules are violated.”

The press release states the department’s Aviation Enforcement Office found Southwest Airlines had advertised one-way, nonstop fares for $100 or less for flights on Feb. 14, but failed to include a reasonable number of seats available in a significant number of city-pair markets in the fare sale.

The office also found Southwest advertised $66 one-way fares Jan. 30 for flights between March 1-21 from Dallas Love to Branson Airport, but no seats were available for the sale fare during the time period, which is prohibited under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s unfair and deceptive practices.

Agnew said the error occurred because of a technological malfunction.

“It was temporary and unintentional,” she said. “The circumstances were aggravated by a technical glitch in our inventory and sales system, so we can never really anticipate when something like this might happen. We’ve worked with (the Department of Transportation) and corrected the issue internally to hopefully prevent this from happening.”

Agnew said Southwest has a tech team dedicated to fulfill fare sales, but the issue wasn’t caught until after the fact, in this instance. The consent order from the secretary’s office reads, “Carriers have long been on notice that, as a corollary to the requirement that advertisements state the full price to be paid by the consumer, it follows that a seller of air transportation must have a reasonable number of seats available at the advertised price when a fare is advertised. This means that in addition to having a reasonable number of seats available each time an advertisement is run, the carrier must also ensure that, during the overall period within which the fare is offered, there is no lengthy period of time when no seats are available.” 

In the same docket entry, The Department of Transportation also fined British Airways and Korean Air Lines Co. for violating codes regarding baggage prices and reimbursements a for lost or misplaced baggage.

According to a press release from the Department of Transportation, Southwest Airlines also received a cease and desist order from the department from further violations.

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