Truth in Airline Pricing Proposals Withdrawn by the Department of Transportation

Two notices of proposed rulemakings by the Department of Transportation of the United States — which were originally designed to help consumers — were withdrawn yesterday, Thursday, December 7, 2017 “because they are of limited public benefit” and “as part of the Administration’s effort to reduce regulation and control regulatory costs”.

Truth in Airline Pricing Proposals Withdrawn by the Department of Transportation

The two notices were as follows:

  1. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Ancillary Airline Passenger Revenues — which was issued in July of 2011 — proposed to collect detailed information about ancillary fees paid by airline consumers to determine the total amount of fees carriers collect through the à la carte pricing approach for optional services related to air transportation; but was deemed unnecessary “as the Department’s existing regulations already provide consumers information regarding fees for ancillary services, including baggage fees.”
  2. The Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Transparency of Airline Ancillary Service Fees — which was issued in January of 2017 — proposed to require airlines and other entities to disclose baggage fee information to consumers when fare and schedule information is provided; but it would “require airlines to incur significant costs to implement when airlines already provide significant amounts of data on air carrier ancillary fee revenue.”

Reactions to the Withdrawals

Airlines for America — which is a trade group for the commercial aviation industry in the United States — praised the withdrawals of the aforementioned two notices in recognition that “airlines, like all other businesses, need the freedom to determine which third-parties they do business with and how best to market, display and sell their products.”

However, Charlie Leocha — who is the chairman and founder of Travelers United, which is an advocacy membership organization that represents all travelers — declared under protest in this article that the Department of Transportation “should be ashamed of this action”, as entities which supported the notices of proposed rulemakings now do not have the opportunity to present their side of the issue to the United States government.

“It is a dereliction of duty for the DOT to stop its review of unfair and deceptive pricing of ancillary fees, which make it impossible for consumers to comparison shop for the best costs of airfare”, Leocha stated. “Having DOT remove these limited consumer protections from even consideration in the future is akin to having the Supreme Court decide that is will no longer hear any cases.”

Summary

Disclosures of fees for checked baggage and carry-on bags should be available at the start of a ticket purchase rather than later on in the process. Customers of airlines should not have to slog through the process of booking a ticket in order to find out the true price of travel — especially for the purposes of comparisons between airlines.

Leaving lodging companies out of the equation with mandatory resort fees, customers of airlines already have to contend with “carrier-imposed surcharges” — whatever that means — as well as the onslaught of low airfares known as basic economy airfares. Now on domestic flights and soon on international flights, basic economy airfares are designed to entice customers with artificially low prices to “upgrade” to at least a more traditional economy class experience from one which has few to no benefits and amenities — even if you have earned elite level status in the frequent flier loyalty program of the airline — and perhaps to a premium experience.

If these practices are not “bait and switch”, then they are only one step above that tactic.

Compounding the process of purchasing an airline ticket is that so many different types of airfares exist, which increase the difficulty of informative comparison shopping — not only for the lowest prices; but also for the best value. When you see articles touting low airfares to Europe — such as this one pertaining to airfares as low as $99.00 to Iceland from the United States as written by Edward Pizzarello of Pizza In Motion — and others similar to it at BoardingArea, exactly how much more you will pay for the airfare when including ancillary fees is not defined or disclosed.

In other words: unless you are bringing little more than a small bag and do not intend to eat, drink or breathe aboard the airplane across the Atlantic Ocean, expect to pay more than $99.00 — which is one way to Iceland; but the return flight is often more than double that amount. When including ancillary fees and taxes, the airfares of low-cost carriers can increase to the point of narrowing the gap to the airfares of legacy carriers, which could offer a better experience for a nominally more expensive airfare.

A customer should not have to expend an extraordinarily significant amount of time and effort to investigate each and every airfare in order to attempt to get the most value out of traveling by airplane.

I am personally disappointed by the latest decisions of the Department of Transportation.

Photograph ©2008 by Brian Cohen.

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