Airline fines dive to a record low

EXCLUSIVE: How Aviation Enforcement Orders bottomed out in 2020

In the waning days of the Trump administration, the government has all but stopped issuing airline fines, according to historical data I’ve obtained exclusively.

It’s happening in a year with record consumer complaints about airline service.

Take a look:

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has the sole authority to fine airlines when they violate consumer protection rules governing overbooking, tarmac delay and disabilities. The fines are referred to as Aviation Enforcement Orders.

There will be no more enforcement orders for 2020 according to insiders, meaning that this will be the lowest number of airline fines issued by the U.S. government -- ever.

The dollar amount of civil penalties assessed is only slightly higher:

We haven't seen fines this low since 2008.

How much did U.S. airlines really pay in fines?

A deep dive into the orders shows an even more troubling trend. Only two of the airlines are domestic carriers. The rest are foreign airlines operating in U.S. airspace.

Delta had to pay a $50,000 fine for removing two passengers who were flying while Muslim. That incident happened in 2016.

And Spirit was fined $350,000 for violating the government's oversales rule for flights. It only had to pay $155,000 and was allowed to defer the rest or offer goodwill credits to affected passengers.

That's $205,000 in fines for an industry that earned $4.6 billion in profits last year.

What to do if you're flying the lawless skies

The government may have given up on you, but we haven't. If you run into trouble on your next flight, my consumer advocacy organization can help. I also have some helpful advice on flying this fall.

Let's hope the DOT will get its act together in 2021 and start doing its job.

Please send me your confidential memos, data and news tips. I’m at [email protected].