We’ve discussed the current, incredibly awful state of commercial air travel in the country here more times than I can keep track of. (Well, unless you can afford to fly First Class or charter/own a private jet, that is.) But what can conceivably be done about it? Back in May a group of senators grilled the executives from nearly all the major airlines over the horrible service they provide and told them to get to work fixing their problems… or we will.

Well, they must have been serious (you’ll find out why that’s intended as sarcasm in a moment) because they just handed down some serious fines to three major airlines. (Associated Press)

Three U.S. airlines have agreed to each pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines to resolve government claims that they violated rules aimed at protecting consumers.

The Transportation Department detailed the violations and the fines levied against American Airlines Group, Delta Air Lines and Frontier Airlines in documents released late Friday.

The findings stem from separate investigations conducted by the Transportation Department.

Let’s go to the tail of the tape. American Airlines was tagged for a quarter million dollars because, “the air carrier failed to make timely refunds to passengers.” Fair enough I suppose. Delta has to pay $200K because they, “underreported the number of mishandled baggage complaints it received from passengers.”

The biggest fine and the one which comes closest (though not close enough) to addressing an actual problem was assigned to Frontier Airlines. They owe $400K. (Emphasis added)

Investigators determined that the airline involuntarily bumped passengers from overbooked flights without first seeking volunteers or providing proper compensation in a timely manner.

You can probably see why this sounds like something of a joke when you consider the actual customer service issues most people routinely encounter on domestic flights. The fine handed down to American is over how long it took to provide refunds, not why the passengers needed a refund in the first place. That’s just a bookkeeping error. Delta’s fine was not for the fact that they lose or improperly route your luggage. It was for failing to properly report the number of times it happens. Hey… you can lose all the luggage you want but you need to give us accurate numbers about your horrible baggage handling.

The issue with Frontier is one of the biggest ticket items and most common complaints. They overbook all their flights just like the rest of them, but they weren’t fined for that. They were penalized for not asking for volunteers to be booted first and, just like American, not providing the compensation for disrupting your travel fast enough.

Notice that the airlines aren’t being asked to stop overbooking their flights and kicking people off. They aren’t being told to stop losing so many bags. They’re just being reminded that they have to document all of the instances and offer their mediocre compensation for their terrible service withing a set period of time. So in other words, going back to when those Senators told the airlines that they were going to have to improve their service or face the consequences, the airlines ignored them and at least thus far there will be no consequences.

Gee, Congress. I wonder how many more mergers you’re going to approve so there will be even less competition in the airline industry?