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British Airways Fined for Price Advertising, Baggage Compensation Rules Violations

British Airways Fined for Price Advertising, Baggage Compensation Rules Violations

Feds accuse the carrier of surprising consumers at the last minute

October 4th, 2012 by James Limbach of ConsumerAffairs in News

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has fined British Airways (BA) $250,000 for violating DOT rules on full-fare advertising as well an international treaty on reimbursements for mishandled baggage. The department also ordered the carrier to cease and desist from further violations. 

"Consumers deserve fair treatment from airlines when it comes to price advertising and being reimbursed for lost, damaged or stolen baggage," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "To surprise consumers at the last minute of the purchase process with additional unadvertised costs is deceptive and unacceptable."Â 

Several violations 

DOT's Aviation Enforcement Office found that British Airways violated a number of the department's original price advertising requirements that were in place prior to the strengthened full-fare advertising rule that took effect in January 2012. The carrier promoted award travel in emails and on websites without providing disclosure of taxes and government fees through a hyperlink or other appropriate method. 

It also failed to include carrier-imposed charges, such as fuel surcharges, in the award prices. For example, one promotion in connection with British Airways credit cards advertised two tickets to London without disclosing that, in order to obtain reward travel tickets, passengers were required to pay mandatory surcharges imposed by the carrier that could total as much as $600 per person. 

British Airways also published a number of advertisements about one-way fares that were available only by purchasing a round-trip ticket. In some ads, the notice of the round-trip requirement was in small type and beneath an illustration. This violated the DOT's enforcement policy stating that notices of round-trip purchase requirements for each-way fares must be clear and conspicuous and be placed next to the advertised fare the first time it is shown. 

British Airways also violated the Montreal Convention, an international agreement setting rules for international air travel, by its stated policy not to pay compensation for loss, damage or theft from checked baggage of certain fragile or valuable items such as money, jewelry, electronic devices or silverware. 

The Convention allows carriers to limit their liability for lost baggage or items in baggage to just over $1,700 per person in U.S. dollars, an amount that fluctuates based on currency conversion rates, but also states that carriers are liable for loss or theft of all types of checked baggage. 

Today's penalty follows a notice issued by the Enforcement Office on March 26, 2009, reminding carriers of the requirements of the Montreal Convention.