DOT Won’t Force United To Honor Super-Low First-Class Fares Resulting From Glitch

Earlier this month, several people figured out that they could book super-cheap airfares on United Airlines’ website if they made it look like they were accessing the site from Denmark. The airline canceled those tickets after getting wind of the loophole, which it blamed on a software glitch. Thousands of people complained to the Dept. of Transportation, arguing the airline was illegally raising airfares post-purchase, but the DOT has decided that isn’t the case.

Complaints from passengers alleged that United had violated federal laws regarding the marketing of airfares and fees, but the DOT explains that since the website glitch — which involved a miscalculation of the conversion rate of Danish Krone — was on United’s site for Denmark residents, it’s not really a DOT issue.

“The mistaken fares appeared on a website that was not marketed to consumers in the United States,” reads a statement [PDF] from the DOT’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings. “In order to purchase a ticket, individuals had to go to United’s Denmark website which had fares listed in Danish Krone throughout the purchasing process. In addition, only people who identified ‘Denmark’ as their location/country where billing statements are received when entering billing information at the completion of the purchase process were able to complete their purchase at the mistaken fare levels.”

The DOT says its policy is to not enforce the prohibition against post-purchase price increases “when the fare offer is not marketed to consumers in the United States.”

Beyond that, investigators say that U.S. residents trying to take advantage of the error demonstrated “bad faith” in their dealings with the airline because they “had to manipulate the search process on the website in order to force the conversion error to Danish Krone by misrepresenting their billing address country as Denmark when, in fact, Denmark was not their billing address country.”

DOT is even giving United the option of how it can apologize to affected customers, saying the airline can post a notice on the United website rather than reaching out to everyone involved.

“We believe that posting of information by the Department and United is the best course of action as it offers the most effective means of reaching as many consumers as possible at the same time,” concludes the statement.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.