The government’s push to require airlines and travel websites to disclose up-front fees for basic services that are not included in the price of a ticket seems simple and transparent, and perhaps that’s why the travel industry is opposed.
The industry prefers the current opaque billing process that makes it hard to compare ticket offers.
These days, a traveler might think he was buying a ticket for a tantalizingly low price only to get to the end of the process and discover a litany of additional fees were being tacked on.
The Transportation Department has proposed that passengers be provided detailed information on fees for a first checked bag, a second checked bag, advance seat assignments and carry-on bags.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “Knowledge is power, and our latest proposal helps ensure consumers have clear and accurate information.”
The rules would apply whether passengers bought tickets on the phone, in person or online, and not just from airline websites but also from the constellation of specialty travel websites out there, even the ones that don’t actually sell tickets, along with traditional travel agents.
Of course, a trade association for the airline industry has said the “proposal overreaches and limits how free markets work.”
Preventing travelers from seeing the price they’ll have to pay for a flight is a difficult argument to defend, but it’s easy to see why airlines are trying. Making it difficult for travelers to compare prices makes an old-fashioned price war less likely to break out.
The Transportation Department proposal also would prohibit “unfair and deceptive” practices by airfare search tools, such as ranking flights by some airlines ahead of others without disclosing that bias to consumers.
The rules have exceptions, including fees for early boarding, curbside check-in and other services regarded as optional.
Airlines have exerted enough political pressure that a House committee recently approved a bill that would effectively nullify the rule favoring consumers and allow airlines to return to displaying base fares and adding in taxes and fees later.
Given that the public has 90 days to comment on a proposal that could benefit them, travelers should step up and demand the ticket price transparency they deserve.