Lawmakers, Consumer Advocates Want More Airline Transparency

Lawmakers, Consumer Advocates Want More Airline Transparency
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August 17, 2015

Lawmakers and consumer advocates are pushing airlines to better disclose extra fees and add-on costs so that travelers can more easily determine the real cost of their trip.

A congressional report released earlier this month from the minority staff of the Senate Commerce Committee found that these poorly disclosed fees accounted for an additional $38.1 billion in profit and called for greater transparency from the airline industry.

"The traveling public is being nickel-and-dimed to death," Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the panel's top Democrat, said in a statement. "What's worse is that many flyers don't learn about the actual cost of their travel until it's too late."

Travelers purchasing tickets through online websites are sometimes only presented seats which require an additional fee, unaware that airlines will randomly assign them an available seat for free at a later date. Travelers that had to change or cancel their flight got hit with penalties that could double the cost of travel, even when the change is made far in advance of the flight. Consumers said they did not receive prominent or clear disclosures when they purchased their tickets.

"For years now, we have been outspoken about airline fees and the lack of transparency when it comes to the actual price of your ticket, and have criticized attempts by industry and lawmakers to actually make it harder to determine the bottom-line cost of an airline ticket," wrote Consumer Reports. "We think the report's recommendations regarding airline fees are sound and sensible, and they would help strike a blow against 'fare shock.'"

The report's recommendations don't necessarily do away with these additional fees, but requires more notice and transparency so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions. For example one recommendation mandates that airlines place clear disclosures that preferred seat charges are optional.

Others require more justification for the fees charged. Another recommendation would require that checked baggage and carry-on baggage fees have a clear connection between the costs incurred by the airline and the baggage fees charged. Airlines would also be required to refund any fees for bags that are delayed more than six hours on a domestic flight.

Rather than asking that airlines do away with change fees, the report recommends that change fees should be limited to a reasonable amount tied to lead time prior to departure and an amount less than the original fare.

This is the second time in less than a month that the airline industry took a hit from those in Washington. In July the Department of Transportation opened up an investigation to determine if Delta, American, United, Southwest, and JetBlue excessively hiked fare prices after an Amtrak train derailed on May 12.

Travelers are also becoming increasingly frustrated with airlines and complaints have increased over the past year. According to the DOT's latest monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, complaints between January 2012 and June 2015 increased about 20 percent from the same time in 2014. In June consumers filed more than 2,000 complaints, an increase of about 47 percent from June 2014.

The report also includes two tarmac delays that lasted longer than three hours and are now under investigation.

The problem with hidden fees isn't unique to the airline industry. NCCC and Travelers United are pushing for better disclosure of resort fees which are often left out of hotel pricing when consumers are shopping online. Travelers are then hit with these mandatory fees at checkout regardless if they used the services the fee supposedly covers.