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Court nixes airline claim that misleading ads are 'free speech'

April 01, 2013|By David Lazarus
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has left intact federal rules requiring airlines to come clean on ticket prices.
The U.S. Supreme Court has left intact federal rules requiring airlines… (Bloomberg News )

The airline industry thinks it's just plain unfair that they have to disclose the total cost of a ticket to passengers.

The U.S. Supreme Court begs to differ.

The justices have left intact Transportation Department rules requiring airlines to prominently feature the total cost of air travel in ads and online, rather than lower -- and misleading -- pretax prices.

The airlines had shamelessly argued that the rules violate their free-speech rights by preventing them from illustrating how fees and taxes drive up passenger costs.

They said federal regulators were blocking airlines "from drawing clear and conspicuous attention to truthful information about the significant tax burden on airline tickets."

It'd be funny if it weren't so pathetic.

The reality, of course, is that airlines have long enjoyed suckering people with misleadingly low initial prices that jump considerably higher once all taxes and fees were accounted for.

In response, the Transportation Department said airlines either have to allow for penalty-free cancellation of reservations for 24 hours or let customers hold seats for a day without payment. A federal appeals court upheld the rules last year.

"The airline advertising rule is a quintessential consumer-protection regulation," U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said in court papers. "The government’s substantial interest in ensuring that consumers receive accurate information about airfares is clearly and directly advanced by a regulation requiring that the total, final price be the most prominent."

If airlines truly want to exercise their right to free speech, why don't they say in ads that they'll nickel-and-dime passengers to death while offering the most uncomfortable and unpleasant travel experience possible?

Or is that a little too much free speech?

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