DOT Fines American for Charging Passengers 'Bump' Fee

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The Department of Transportation has levied a $90,000 fine on American Airlines for failing to disclose voucher fees to passengers who agreed to be bumped, giving up their seats voluntarily on overbooked flights. The carrier is responding by trying to downplay the historic DOT penalty.

"It's kind of something they tripped over," Ed Martelle, spokesman for American Airlines tells AOL Travel News. "The other problem is they have no regulations over this stuff."

The Dallas-based airline confirms that it charged up to $30 for vouchers used by bumped passengers to redeem tickets at the airport counter up until late last year, however the carrier says it ended the fee for telephone voucher bookings in 2007. The ticket counter redemptions accounted for about 2 percent of redemptions, according to the airline.

American also, according to the DOT, failed to disclose that up to three weeks were required to process vouchers that were redeemed by telephone.

DOT investigators found passengers still can't use bumped vouchers to book flights on the Web, which is the preferred method for many passengers and is also the place where airlines offer their lowest fares.

The DOT says it launched its probe based on a consumer complaint in 2009.

American will have to pay $45,000 of the DOT fine upfront, and if no other violations occur within the next year, the balance will be waived.

Under DOT rules, airlines must ask for volunteers willing to give up seats when a flight is overbooked, and the carrier can offer any amount of compensation they choose. When they run out of volunteers, airlines can then bump passengers involuntarily, but the compensation is set in those cases.

Asked about its practice in the wake of the DOT ruling, United Airlines said it does not charge a fee for redeeming vouchers. Delta Air Lines and US Airways officials were not immediately available for comment.

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