The U.S. federal government has fined three airlines a total of $850,000 over claims of violations of rules focused on protecting passengers. The fines are based off of investigations conducted by the Department of Transportation (DOT). The investigations were separate from each other.
American Airlines was fined $250,000 because the airline failed to effectively refund passengers in the first half 2015. An investigation was started by the DOT after receiving consumer complaints that the airline was delaying issuing refunds. Per DOT regulations, airlines are required to refund passengers seven days after receiving credit card documentation, or twenty days after receiving cash payment.
American blames the delays on its merger with US Airways, saying that a focus on continuous integration caused the delays.
“We took proactive steps to address refund delays some customers experienced in 2015 due to a systems integration issue after the merger with US Airways , including investments to improve processing times,” said Shannon Gilson, an American Airlines spokeswoman.
The airline also said that it is “committed to providing timely refunds to our customers”.
Delta Airlines agreed to pay $200,000 to resolve claims that the carrier underreported the number of mishandled bags, including those that were delayed, lost, stolen, or damaged.
Delta’s policy at the time was that, when it settled damaged or lost bags with replacements, it didn’t enter the claim into a system called “WorldTracer”, which is used to calculate the rate of mishandled baggage that is reported to the government. This means that those bags were not reported to the government.
“We have carefully considered the facts of this case, including the explanation provided by Delta, and believe enforcement action is necessary,” said a spokesperson for the DOT.
In a statement, Delta says that it updated its policy on baggage reporting after being notified of the DOT’s investigation. It also says that is has invested in “providing full transparency to the status and location of checked bags”, and has invested $1.2 million in updating its mobile app to allow passengers to track their bags from their phones and tablets.
In both 2012 and 2013, Delta was ranked fourth for baggage handling performance. The airline says that, though it probably would have slipped to fifth in both years had it reported lost bags adequately, it would not have fallen in either 2014 or 2015. It ranked fifth in May 2017 with 1.67 reports of mishandled bags per 1000 customers.
Out of the three airlines, Frontier received the largest fine. The ultra-low-cost carrier was fined $400,000 for violating procedures for bumping passengers from overbooked flights and failing to properly assist disabled passengers.
The DOT found that Frontier didn’t seek volunteers before involuntarily bumping passengers off of oversold flights. In addition, passengers weren’t given written notices of their rights and weren’t compensated quickly, if at all. Per DOT regulation, if a passenger checks in for a flight and reserves a seat, an airline is required to adequately pay the passenger in cash or check the same day if they bump the passenger involuntarily.
“The department found that Frontier failed to seek volunteers before bumping passengers involuntarily, failed to provide bumped passengers with the required notice describing their rights, and failed to provide compensation to passengers in a timely manner, in violation of DOT rules,” the DOT said in a statement.
The agency also found that Frontier didn’t provide adequate assistance to disabled passengers. According to a report, the ULCC didn’t provide passengers with disabilities adequate assistance getting on and off planes; help the passengers in the terminal; or respond appropriately to complaints.
“Frontier remains committed to complying with DOT rules and regulations,” says a statement released by Frontier. “During this investigation, Frontier reviewed outdated procedures that were not effective; they have since been updated. In addition, Frontier has taken steps including a new reporting system to ensure compliance with the DOT regulations.”
Frontier recently introduced routes to 21 new cities, and time will tell if their new policy will be effective in their newly expanded network.