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DOT to investigate US airlines for price gouging

The US Department of Transportation is investigating possible price gouging by five US carriers following an Amtrak derailment on 12 May that shut down train travel in the US northeast.

The agency says it has sent a letter to American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines seeking pricing information for routes most likely affected by the Amtrak shutdown.

“The idea that any business would seek to take advantage of stranded rail passengers in the wake of such a tragic event is unacceptable,” says US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx. “This Department takes all allegations of airline price-gouging seriously, and we will pursue a thorough investigation of these consumer complaints.”

The DOT letter sent to the five US airlines requested average fares on each day on 28 routes from 28 April to 26 May. It also requested passenger numbers and number of tickets sold, among others.

The five airlines are required to submit the information within 30 days, says the letter.

All the airlines acknowledge receiving the letter and say they will co-operate with the DOT. Delta says it "took steps to ensure affected travellers could affordably and conveniently reach their destinations" after the Amtrak incident.

"To the contrary, Delta lowered its highest Shuttle prices by nearly 50 percent, to about $300 each way, for travel between New York, Boston and Washington DC," says the Atlanta-based carrier. It adds that it also honoured Amtrak tickets for travel between Washington DC, Boston and New York.

American and United say they are confident no wrongdoing would be found, while Southwest notes that it operates on only four of the 28 routes identified by the DOT.

This is the second time this month that the US government has announced investigations into airlines' practices. Earlier in July, the Department of Justice said it was investigating Delta, American, United and Southwest for possible capacity collusion.

Additional reporting by Jon Hemmerdinger

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