WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today assessed a civil penalty against Delta Air Lines for violating federal rules protecting passengers who are denied boarding against their will, or “bumped,” on oversold flights. DOT fined Delta $750,000 and ordered the airline to cease and desist from further violations.
“Airline passengers deserve to be treated fairly, especially if they are forced to miss a flight because an airline oversold seats,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Consumers have rights, and we will continue to take enforcement action when airlines violate our rules to protect the traveling public.”
When an airline oversells a flight, DOT regulations require the airline to seek volunteers willing to give up their seats for compensation. If there is not a sufficient number of volunteers, the airline then bumps passengers involuntarily. Passengers are entitled to a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the airline decides whom it will bump first. In most cases, passengers bumped involuntarily also are entitled to cash compensation of up to $1,300 depending on the value of their tickets and the length of time that passengers are delayed. In addition, the larger U.S. airlines must file quarterly reports with DOT on the number of passengers who were bumped involuntarily from oversold flights as well as those who agreed voluntarily to give up their seats.
In March 2012, the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that, in a number of instances, Delta failed to seek volunteers before bumping passengers involuntarily, or bumped passengers involuntarily without providing them a written notice describing their rights or informing them that they had a right to cash compensation. In addition, Delta classified some passengers who were bumped involuntarily as having volunteered to give up their seats, which both violated the passengers’ rights to compensation and resulted in inaccurate bumping reports filed with DOT. Delta also violated its published customer commitment, which included a pledge to obey DOT’s bumping regulations.
Delta may use up to $425,000 of the penalty to buy electronic tablets to record consumers’ decisions on whether they agreed to leave a flight and accept compensation offered by the airline, as well to train Delta personnel on using the tablets. The data collected can be used to help correct any problems the airline may have in complying with the bumping rules.
This is Delta’s second violation of the Department’s bumping rules in the past four years. On July 9, 2009, the airline was fined $375,000 for violations similar to those included in today’s consent order.
Southwest was ordered to cease and desist from further violations and assessed a civil penalty of $200,000.
This is the first penalty issued by the Department against an airline for failing to disclose fees or other restrictions on the use of oversales vouchers.
The rules offer a blanket of consumer protections, including increasing compensation for passengers involuntarily bumped from flights.