ASTA Fights ‘Transparent Airfares Act’
by Robin Amster

ASTA launched a grassroots campaign to fight passage of the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, an airline-supported bill that ASTA terms “anti-consumer.” ASTA joins a growing chorus of opposition to the legislation.

The association is asking members to write their Congressional representatives to oppose the bill, H.R. 4156, which was reported out of committee in the House without debate on April 9 and could be acted on as early as next week.

ASTA said the bill would essentially reverse the Department of Transportation’s 2012 Full Fare Advertising Rule, a consumer protection law that requires airlines to advertise the full price consumers pay for an air ticket.

DOT rule
Under the DOT’s current rule, advertised airfares must display prominently the full and final price, including all taxes, fees and airline surcharges.

The rule allows taxes and fees to be listed separately in advertisements, as long as the total price is displayed most prominently. Airlines also can add anti-tax commentary in their advertising.

Proposed change
Airlines claim that the DOT rule prevents them from clearly disclosing the tax burden on air travel.

The proposed legislation would amend the DOT rule to allow airlines to advertise base airfares only and disclose charges such as taxes and fees, as well as the total price, separately, including in a popup or link.

The airline trade group Airlines for America favors its passage.

ASTA: No consumer harm
ASTA urged Congress to stay out of it. “The airlines challenged the rule in court and lost, then tried the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. Congress should stay its hand here,” said ASTA president Zane Kerby.

“There is no evidence of consumer harm under the DOT rule, only benefits for the traveling public.”

More opposition
Several consumer groups including Consumer Action, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, and the National Consumers League also oppose the bill.

In a letter to the Senate urging it not to replicate the House bill, the groups said the proposed legislation would lead to “a classic bait and switch for consumers who believe they are purchasing a ticket at one price, only to find out at the last moment that the price is much higher.”

They said the bill would allow airlines to hide their own extra fees and charges until the last minute before a ticket is purchased. “This would be especially problematic on the Internet, where it  might require extra clicks to obtain full price information,” they said.

Earlier this week the New York Times said in an editorial that the “cynically named Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 can only hurt consumers.”

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