For some time the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has been monitoring the social media activities of airlines to ensure that airlines fully disclose fares up front to travelers. Under DOT regulations any far, including promotional fares, must disclose taxes and fees up front. While DOT fare disclosure eats into Twitter’s 140-character message, regulations for airline fare transparency applies to all mediums.
Spirit Airlines is known for it tacky advertising, charging fees for carry on bags, seats that don’t recline and customer service on par with the customer experience you might experience on a weekend get away at San Quentin.
Back in June Spirit Airlines ran a US$9 one-way fare special for flights from Los Angeles that failed to disclose that there were additional taxes, fees and restrictions, such as the purchase of round-trip travel being required.
Under DOT regulations the Tweet needed to disclose that taxes, fees and restrictions applied in addition to the US$9 one-way fare. While the Spirit Airlines additional taxes, fees and restrictions were available on Spirit’s website, it required customers to click a second link to learn of the extra expense on top of the US$9 fare. Requiring a link to be followed to find out that taxes, fees and restrictions apply is considered deceptive marketing by the DOT, having fees buried behind a second link on the website is exceptionally deceptive.
Spirit Airline claims that the Tweets failing to adhere to the DOT’s regulations was an oversight … however the airline failed to disclose there were additional taxes, fees and restrictions on its billboards and other printed marketing materials for the promotion.
So what was Spirit Airlines’ fine? The U.S. Department of Transportation fined the airline US$50,000. While the DOT’s fine is a slap on the wrist, the fine makes a point to Sprit Airlines and other airlines … the DOT is watching and keeping you honest.
Mistakes will happen, however interestingly, as of today it appears Spirit Airlines has gone through its Tweets and deleted every single Tweet the airline tweeted in June 2011 from their Twitterstream.