According to at least one published article recently, the answer to that question is a rather resounding “yes” and, naturally, “mistake fares” are called out in the piece. The opinion is voiced in the most recent edition of The Air & Space Lawyer, a publication of the American Bar Association targeted at legal professionals in the aviation world. The current edition hasn’t made their homepage yet but one of the authors is Evelyn Sahr, a partner at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC, and chairs the firm’s Aviation Practice Group. The Firm has published a copy of the piece as well so it is available from them. And it is an interesting read.
From the get-go Sahr and co-author Drew Derco are on the offensive in defending the airlines and their need for protections, claiming that the current DoT rules go too far.
[G]overnmental regulators have promulgated a series of new consumer rights regulations aimed at preventing misleading advertising, pricing, and other alleged unfair or deceptive conduct by airlines.
Notwithstanding the above, there is one issue for which, contrary to the current regulatory model, airlines deserve some protection of their own: aggressive consumers who take advantage of implausibly low fares that are clearly published in error.… Genuine pricing mistakes, although rare, do happen. And, with the existence of blogs and other forms of social media, airlines are at the mercy of unscrupulous passengers who troll these media looking to take advantage of erroneous fares, which are sometimes referred to as “mistake fares.”
Not surprisingly the RGN fares made the bulk of the story, though there are allusions to other mistakes, such as the $40 British Airways India base fare from a few years back, a fare which was not honored. Conveniently the story misses out on the fact that the India fare was actually ~$600 a/I, not all that much less than historical lows on those routes.
Sahr & Derco cite many different industries and the regulations covering them, each and every one of which permits the company advertising the goods for sale to either refuse to complete a transaction or to change the final price and hold the customer accountable for paying more even if the transaction was completed. Included are many travel-related offerings such as cruise bookings as well as a recent TicketMaster case where they were permitted to go back to customers and collect $99 rather than the $25 originally charged for a concert ticket. These two examples, as well as several “typographical errors” in newspaper ads are given as a basis for why the current DoT rules are onerous and unfair to airlines.
The piece closes with a rather strongly worded claim, similar to the opening:
Allowing the few unscrupulous consumers who troll websites to profit from unintentional pricing errors will, in the end, only serve to raise the price of air travel to the detriment of the broader class of consumers DOT seeks to protect.
On the one hand, I get the position being put forth. Airlines are potentially on the hook for mistakes far more than any other industry based on the current regulations and that is arguably unfair to them. At the same time, however, the contracts they are operating on are tremendously biased in their favor in nearly every other facet of operations. Customers are penalized for just about any “error” they might make whilst the airlines are wholly in charge. Permitting such a one-sided application of rules is just as unfair to consumers as the current version theoretically is to the industry.
I do believe there is a balance which can be reached where the airlines respect the passengers and the converse is also true. But that is going to require some give on the part of the airlines, well more than what Sahr & Derco are suggesting in this case.
Thanks to teh Otter for sharing the original source with me.
- Is there such a thing as too much consumer protection?
- What is the real impact of 49 CFR 41712 § 399.88(a) for travelers?
- New consumer protections on offer from the DoT
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