The Department of Transportation proposed a new rule Wednesday that would force airlines to disclose fees for services such as checked bags and advance seat assignments at the point of sale, rather than later in the traveling process.
The new consumer protection rule comes as the airlines are trying to accomplish the opposite with the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, which would give them federal permission to lie about the actual price of fares, making them appear lower only to add on a slew of additional fees later. A Change.org petition denouncing the act has garnered almost 64,000 signatures.
As it is, fees are not always clearly stated when buying a ticket, and fees simply listed on the Web site leaves travelers unable to understand the total cost of a ticket before buying it, according to the DOT. Airlines made $27.1 billion in ancillary fees in 2012.
“Knowledge is power, and our latest proposal helps ensure consumers have clear and accurate information when choosing among air transportation options,” says transportation secretary Anthony Foxx.
The rules would apply to all tickets, regardless if booked online, in person, on the phone or with a travel agent. It’s the third of its kind, with rules in 2009 and 2011 that raised penalties for long tarmac delays and required airlines to announce full fares, including taxes, in advertisements.
“Passengers have lost their faith in the travel industry,” says Katrina Roberts, a travel agent at CookTravel.net who specializes in airfares to the South Pacific.
“On a Business Class flight to Sydney, taxes alone could cost $1,000 per person. If I didn’t disclose a fare including the taxes to my clients up front, they wouldn’t trust me enough to handle their travel arrangements,” she says
The proposal would put an end to “unfair and deceptive” practices, says the DOT. But, just as the airlines fought the rules in years past, they will continue to fight this one, despite the benefits it will provide to its customers.
A statement from Airlines for America says the proposal “overreaches and limits how free markets work.”
And it’s no secret why the airlines are upset. Over the next year, the proposal is set to cost them $5.1 million and $24.7 million over the next decade.
“The proposal we’re offering today will strengthen the consumer protections we have previously enacted and raise the bar for airlines and tickets agents when it comes to treating travelers fairly,” Foxx said.
The DOT also wants to extend the rule to cover third-party flight search Web sites like Kayak and Google’s Flight Search. The department will collect public comment for 90 days before implementing the rule.
USA Today rounded up the other goals the rule hopes to accomplish:
- Expand the airlines that much report information to the DOT about how many times the flights are late, how many times they oversell flights, and how many times they mishandle bags.
- Require travel agencies to adopt minimum customer-service standards, such as responding promptly to customer complaints and holding reservations for 24 hours without payment.
- Require airlines and ticket agents to disclose the airlines actually providing flights, under code-share arrangements, on initial itinerary displays on their Web sites.
- Prohibit travel agents from ranking flights of certain carriers above others without disclosing the bias in any presentation of carrier schedules, fares, rules or availability.
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