The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has given a civil penalty of $90,000 against American Airlines for purposely failing to disclose that the vouchers given to customers to give up their seats were redeemable only after they paid an additional $30 ticketing fee.

This is the first penalty ever issued by the DOT against any airline for failing to disclose fees on the use of oversales vouchers. “When passengers volunteer to give up their seat on an oversold flight, they are entitled to be fully compensated — not to find out later that they’re getting $30 less,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “Passengers deserve to be treated fairly when they fly, and especially when they’ve volunteered to give up their seat because the airline overbooked their flight.”

Under DOT’s oversale rules, an airline must first find volunteers willing to give up their seat before involuntary bumping passengers. An investigation by DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office concluded that American Airlines offered travel vouchers worth specific dollar amounts as compensation for voluntary bumping.  When awarding the vouchers, American Airlines did not tell passengers they would have to pay a ticketing fee and failed to tell customers that the vouchers could not be redeemed on the carrier’s internet site.

American Airlines also did not tell passengers that vouchers used for tickets purchased by telephone had to be mailed to the carrier for processing as much as three weeks before the departure date.