US Supreme Court turns down airlines’ challenge over fare advertising

02 Apr 2013


The US airline industry's challenge to the recently-enacted federal rules that required airlines to include taxes in their advertised fares has come a cropper.

According to the carriers, the rules violated their free-speech rights, but the Supreme Court which did not see it that way, turned down the review request. The move leaves the 2012 Department of Transportation rules in place.

Under the rules, airlines are required to display the total cost of a ticket - inclusive of taxes - in the largest type size and in the most-prominent placement. The DOT rules had earlier been upheld by a federal appeals court.

Airlines can still break down the price of a ticket to show taxes and fees, but not in a way that trumped the tax-inclusive price.

The appeal to the Supreme Court was filed by low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines and had been supported by fellow low-cost operators Allegiant Air and Southwest Airlines.

The decision also keeps intact a new Department of Transport rule that gives consumers 24 hours to change their mind with no penalty, after making a flight.

In their submissions to the court, Spirit, Southwest and Allegiant are quoted by Bloomberg as arguing that DOT was trying to prevent them "from drawing clear and conspicuous attention to truthful information about the significant tax burden on airline tickets, at a time when the administration is pushing to raise those taxes even higher."

The transportation department rules were aimed at reducing consumer confusion over ticket charges. According to the airlines, the rules violated speech rights by preventing companies from emphasizing the impact of fees and taxes.

President Barack Obama's administration had urged the justices not to hear the appeal.

''The airline advertising rule is a quintessential consumer-protection regulation,'' US solicitor general Donald Verrilli argued in court papers. ''The government's substantial interest in ensuring that consumers receive accurate information about air fares is clearly and directly advanced by a regulation requiring that the total, final price be the most prominent.''

In 2010, the Obama administration said, it planned to start enforcement of a longstanding requirement that airlines advertise only the total cost of a ticket. Under the current policy of the transportation department, airlines that listed taxes and fees separately needed to use a smaller type size and could not put those costs at the top of the page.

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