DOT and Customers Impose Double Standard on Airlines

By | July 19, 2012

English: United Airlines Boeing B747-400 at Be...

Fare mistakes are very dangerous. At least once every few months, some airline makes a typo, and sells tickets at a price no rational person could think was correct. Yet they jump on it, post it to forums and blogs before the airline can fix it.

In January, the DOT prohibited airlines from increasing the price of travel after purchase is made. We’re fully in favor of that, but the DOT also chose to include mistake fares in this rule. This is an incredible double standard. As part of the same set of rules, the DOT imposed a 24 hour refund period on airline tickets.

So, consumers have the right to change their mind on a non-refundable purchase within the first day, but the airline does not have the same right, and is forced to honor a data entry mistake? How is that fair?

If the fare goes up, the DOT notes that the price cannot be increased. However, if the fare goes down, consumers expect a refund or travel credit for the difference.

Scott McCartney, writing for the Middle Street Terminal Blog over at the Wall Street Journal, refers to the people who jump on these fares as “savvy consumers.” Airlines in the past have honored many of these fares, if it was conceivable that someone could expect to get a ticket for that price. No one in their right mind should think 16 miles plus tax is a reasonable price to fly from New York to Hong Kong.

Outside of this regulation, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that no federal law mandates that pricing errors be honored, unless it is misleading or deceptive, and most state laws mirror this.

Airlines do many things we disapprove of, and we love a good deal as much as anyone. Airlines treat people unfairly all the time. But it is not just or fair to take advantage of such an obvious mistake(when you know it is a mistake). It’s just wrong.