Airlines Argue Losing Battle Against Consumer Protection Rules

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on July 25, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We all complain about the practices of the airline industry. Last year, the Department of Transportation heard our complaints. They enacted a rule named Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections.

The rule was enacted to fight deceptive and unfair practices by the airline industry. Of course, the airlines decided to fight this rule. Spirit Airlines challenged the rule, with Southwest Airlines intervening. Recently, the case went before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The D.C. Circuit, however, sided with the little guy.

Three of the rule's provisions were challenged:

  1. The most prominent figure displayed on advertisements and website must be the total price, inclusive of taxes;
  2. Airlines must allow people who purchase more than one week in advance to cancel within 24 hours of purchase; and
  3. Airlines may not increase their baggage and air transportation fees after the customer has purchased the ticket.

The airlines asserted several arguments, citing that all three provisions were arbitrary and capricious.

Their First Amendment argument, however, was more interesting: They alleged that the listing of prices in a certain way amounted to "political speech."

They argued that they have a right to inform consumers about the huge tax burden on airfares, by the use of larger print to list the taxes.

The airlines said that their listing of prices did more than just inform customers about the price-- it proved a political point.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this notion, finding that the advertising of prices was commercial speech, not political speech.

The rule, according to the court, didn't prohibit speech. Rather, it targeted misleading advertising and asked airlines to modify the way in which prices were disclosed.

Luckily for airline consumers, the arguments pushed forth by the airline companies had little effect. The court ruled in favor of the Department of Transportation.

Air travelers can breathe a little more easily.

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