American Airlines Won’t Put Their Full T&C Online, Says DOT Can’t Make Them

American used to have its full ‘terms and conditions’ available online. They’ve removed the legalese entirely from their website and now offer a plain language FAQ-style conditions of carriage page.

However there’s still a general tariff, the contract of carriage incorporates it by reference, and customers effectively agree to it when they buy a ticket. They just can’t see it.

The general tariff includes more detail that the ‘conditions of carriage’ page on proper handling during irregular operations, as well as when refunds are due to customers (including how downgrade compensation should be paid). Consumer (and sometimes blog reader) Mike Borsetti filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation over American’s removing these rules from its website.

American has now responded to the DOT (.pdf) and the gist of their argument is that no DOT rule was broken (since DOT rules on the subject were written long before websites), Borsetti himself didn’t allege specific harm, and consumers can still get a copy of the tariff if they ask for it specifically.

  • American says they incorporated their international rules into the ‘plain language’ Contract of Carriage of their website, and meant to take the tariff off the website at that point but failed to do so. They realized it was online still and took it off in May.

  • And they suggest they aren’t required to have their full rules on their website, that instead the DOT only requires them to post notice that the tariff is available and make available upon request “at physical locations, under the control of the carrier, where tickets are sold.”

American’s argument boils down to DOT rules were never updated for the information age so they’re permitted to keep their rules off the website where customers would normally expect to find them. As American puts it, “[t]he tariff public inspection requirements were first adopted by the Civil
Aeronautics Board (“CAB”) in 1965, well before the development of the World Wide Web.”

In other words, American says they haven’t broken any rules because the rules themselves are broken. Crucial to American’s argument though is that its website is not a “ticket sales office.” Is a ticket sales office a physical place, or the place where tickets are sold?

  • The rules said an airline’s tariff had to be available where customers purchased tickets
  • But where customers purchased tickets change, and the rules did not.

American acknowledges that even if DOT hasn’t specifically said they have to post this information on their website, they have the authority to determine whether an airline’s action is ‘unfair and deceptive’. American says they’re not being deceptive because they provide full tariff rules to consumers who ask for them. But they have to know to ask!

According to an airline spokesperson,

We do not believe that DOT rules have been broken here and we have provided a means on aa.com for anybody to request a copy of the tariff.

I’ll leave it to DOT to determine whether American has violated any of its rules. They never offer any reason why they wouldn’t make the rules available online (though I asked for one). So I’ll leave it to the court of public opinion as to whether they’re just being jerks imposing rules on customers that they don’t tell customers about on their websites.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Having worked at ticket counter for a major airline, I can assure you the contract of carriage was not available to provide upon request.

  2. Years ago – in the early 70’s – I was a teenage geek and would go to the airline City Ticket Offices and ask to inspect their tariffs. These were the complete tariffs, took up volumes, and were much larger than the contract of carriage. I got the impression when I did this that I was the only person who ever walked in and asked to inspect the tariff.

    Their aren’t City Ticket Offices any more, and I can imagine the reception someone would get if they went to the airport and asked to inspect the complete tariff. I doubt they would have a physical copy any more, nor would they set you up with a computer terminal to have a look.

  3. This is just stupid, and arrogant. Hey AA, post a link and let’s all move on.

    If they won’t, DOT should simply rule that a website is a place of sale and “voila”, they are required to post.

    If you think this is wrong, drop by the ticket counter the next time you are at the airport and ask to see the tariff. Maybe counter personnel will get pissed enough tp tell management to fix it. If they don’t have it, file a DOT complaint,

  4. Cool, I am going to go to aa.com and request a copy now and insist they mail it to me because in my head, if we’re following the rules from 1965 we must assume there is no other way for them to deliver them to me and if they don’t I’ll write a complaint to the DOT stating they are refusing to provide them.

  5. Also I just want to add I recall about I want to say 10 years or more back US Airways had penalties levied because they were unable or unwilling to provide these on demand when inspectors attempted to ensure they were in compliance at airport locations.

  6. For those of you interested in this from the website.

    You may also contact us for a copy of the American Airlines General Rules of the International Tariff.

    Email TariffRequest@aa.com

    Interesting they lean on email for their argument of compliance with the 1965 law but seem to believe that it’s far too burdensome to just post it on their website.

  7. @Joey. Great idea, I will do the same.

    AA is just proving why airlines DON’T deserve an additional bailout. Let em fail and maybe new, customer oriented, airlines will arise.

  8. The Canadian Transportation Agency requires that tariffs are posted online (
    Airlines must always post full copies of their terms and conditions of carriage as set out in their tariff on any website they use to sell their services. Including the tariff on the same page as the notice and plain language summaries would create a single spot where passengers can find comprehensive information about their rights.” https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/communicating-key-information-passengers-a-guide).

    I note that the tariff was removed from their website (see: https://www.otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/air-carrier-tariffs-posted-websites).

    I’m now in contact with their investigations office.

  9. Proud to see that AA is following in Trumps footsteps! Do what ever you want, even if it’s against any laws, with zero accountability…. The new American standard!

  10. @tony — I can immediately recount three separate times (three different airlines, one involving a delay, two involving a cancellation) when I needed to reference the contract of carriage.

  11. We should let Porkie & Co @AA know that they can’t skirt the laws/DOT/rules & regs and We (taxpayers & flyers & CREDITORS) intend to put them out of their miseries. Email them and demand a “PRINTED” copy of AA General Rules of the International Tariff VIA MAIL.

    We can play with 1965 laws just like them. They can be reached at

    TariffRequest@AA.com
    AACustomerRelations@AA.com

  12. UPDATE:
    On Sept 25th I requested the full terms and conditions through the email address and to my surprise, they were delivered by FedEx this morning.

    I am shocked – good for them. Gotta say it still is so odd they don’t just post them online but yeah seems to me they are honoring their commitment. I actually want to page through this document now I do enjoy boring things.

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