DOT fines Delta and United

By Jerry Limone

The Department of Transportation said it has fined Delta $375,000 for violating federal rules regarding the bumping of passengers on oversold flights.

Also, the DOT has assessed an $80,000 penalty against United Airlines for failing to disclose to consumers when flights sold by the carrier were being operated under a codesharing arrangement.

An on-site investigation of customer complaints at Delta’s headquarters in Atlanta revealed "a number of instances in which the carrier bumped passengers but did not follow one or more of the provisions of the oversales rules," the DOT said. The infractions occurred in 2008, before Delta's merger with Northwest.

When a flight is oversold, DOT regulations require airlines to seek volunteers willing to give up their seats for compensation. If there aren’t enough volunteers and the airline must bump passengers, the airline is required to give bumped passengers a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the airline decides who will be bumped from an oversold flight.

In most cases, passengers bumped involuntarily are entitled to cash compensation of up to $800.

The Delta consent order settles on a $375,000 civil penalty, but Delta can offset up to $200,000 via expenditures on training and communications programs that were already in the works. 

One of the programs is Closed Bid, a program that identifies oversold flights, notifies passengers when they check in at Delta.com or at an airport kiosk that the flight is oversold, and explains passengers' options.

Regarding United's violations, the DOT said its Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings made a number of telephone calls to United's reservations line in January to determine if the carrier's employees were advising consumers of codesharing arrangements, as is required by the regulations.

"United's reservations agents failed to disclose codesharing during a substantial number of those calls," the DOT said.

The United order stipulates that the DOT will waive half the penalty, $40,000, if the carrier refrains from similar violations for one year. The full amount must be paid if United breaks the rule again.

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