U.S. Wants to Do Something About Airlines' Hidden Fees

Dana airline staff holds a boarding pass for a demonstration Lagos- Abuja flight with celebrities, journalists and airline executives at the Murtala Muhammed airport in Lagos, Nigeria, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013.

After all is said and done, the price of a flight — including the fare, baggage fees, seat upgrades, snacks, onboard entertainment and more — can be substantially more than the originally advertised fare. The Department of Transportation (DOT) would like to change that.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx proposed new rules Wednesday that would attempt to clarify the price of a flight for customers.
“The proposal we’re offering today will strengthen the consumer protections we have previously enacted and raise the bar for airlines and ticket agents when it comes to treating travelers fairly,” said Foxx.

The proposed rule would require airlines, travel agents and online booking sites to disclose fees for specific services, including one carry-on item, first and second checked bag, and advanced seat assignment, at all points of sale.
"Currently, fees for additional services are often difficult to determine when searching for airfares and as a result, many consumers are unable to understand the true cost of travel before purchasing a ticket," the DOT stated.
Airlines have been breaking out services into additional fees over the past few years, and will likely continue to do so to increase opportunities for revenue.
Last month Denver-based Frontier Airlines introduced a new fare structure to "simplify" prices on the carrier. The airline said the new structure — which fully unbundles all available services — makes it possible to offer even lower base fares, but passengers could be surprised when they are charged for even using overhead bin space.
Low-cost airlines, including Frontier and others like Spirit and Ryanair, have introduced additional fees for a variety of services, and larger carriers, like American and Delta, are following suit.
In addition to requiring fee disclosure, the DOT is also trying to redefine the players in travel booking. The department would like to classify online booking sites, like Expedia, Priceline, KAKAK and even Google, as “ticket agents” in order to include them in consumer protection regulations.
The proposal will mean little, however, if a bill just approved by a committee in the House of Representatives becomes law.
The Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 would allow airline carriers to advertise prices that do not include any taxes or additional fees. The bill's sponsors say it would be "transparent" because it would break down all of the different fees, but consumers may disagree when their final cost is 15 to 20% more than advertised.
The bill would allow "advertisements for passenger air travel to state the base airfare and separately disclose any government imposed taxes and fees and the total cost of travel." The final price would be withheld until booking.
The bill is listed on GovTrack with a 70% chance of becoming law.
The DOT's proposal is open to public comment online for the next 90 days.

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