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The U.S. Department of Transportation has hit Southwest with a $200,000 fine for violating the agency's full-fare advertising rules. It's the second time in less than a year that the DOT has targeted Southwest for such a violation.

"DOT's full-fare advertising rules were put into place to ensure that consumers are not deceived when they search for plane tickets," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says in a statement announcing the fine. "Consumers have rights, and DOT will continue to take enforcement action against carriers and ticket agents when our price advertising rules are violated."

TODAY IN THE SKY: DOT dings Southwest $200,000 for sale ad violations (Aug. 1, 2013)
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USA TODAY: DOT hits United with record $1.1M fine for long tarmac delays (Oct. 2013)

The DOT alleges that Southwest ran afoul of its full-fare advertising rules during an October 2013 TV ad campaign in Atlanta. In ads that aired on eight Atlanta TV stations, Southwest advertised $59 sale fares to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago for certain dates of travel.

The DOT says an investigation by its Aviation Enforcement Office concluded "Southwest did not have any seats available for $59 between Atlanta and any of the three quoted cities on any of the applicable travel dates."

"By advertising fares for which no seats were available at all, Southwest violated the full-fare advertising rule and engaged in prohibited unfair and deceptive practices," the DOT adds in a statement.

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Southwest says the cities were listed by mistake. In a statement to Today in the Sky, the carrier says:

"The DOT fine is related to an October 2013 fare sale in the Atlanta market that was supported by television ads offering fares starting at $59 one-way. Unfortunately, the audio portion of the TV advertisement incorrectly stated three cities that were never intended to be a part of the $59 sale (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago). As soon as we became aware of our mistake, we pulled all incorrect advertisements off the air. "
"Despite our error, the sale offered substantial discounts in over 500 city pairs throughout Southwest's system. Collectively, more than 300,000 consumers saved millions of dollars by taking advantage of the ATL fare sale. Once we discovered the error, we did honor the $59 fare for those consumers who called reservations requesting the $59 price point for those three markets."

Southwest was targeted by the DOT on July 30, 2013, on similar allegations resulting from another sale fare. In that case, the DOT said Southwest did make enough seats available at promotional prices it advertised during two 2013 sales.

Because of the previous case, the DOT is requiring Southwest to pay $100,000 in fines that had been suspended for its previous action against the low-cost carrier.

"By violating the same regulation again within one year, Southwest also violated the cease and desist provision of the order issued in 2013, and was immediately required to pay $100,000, half of the original civil penalty which was suspended from the previous order," the DOT says.

The latest Southwest fine comes as the DOT has become increasingly aggressive in enforcing its consumer protection rules in recent years.

Among other recent DOT fines:

- $1.1 million fine against United for a tarmac delay violation (Oct. 2013)

- $375,000 fine against Delta for bumping violations (June 2013)

- $200,000 fine against American Eagle for tarmac delays (July 2013)

- $130,000 fine against United for a tarmac delay violation (Feb. 2013)

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