Department of Transportation Drops Airline Fee Transparency Efforts

by Richard D'Ambrosio
Department of Transportation Drops Airline Fee Transparency Efforts

Photo: Shutterstock.com


Consumer advocates, including the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), decried the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) move to not press airlines to more clearly and fully disclose passenger fees.

DOT said it is withdrawing a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM) on Transparency of Airline Ancillary Service Fees issued by the Obama Administration on Jan. 9, 2017.  The SNPRM proposed “to require air carriers, foreign air carriers, and ticket agents to clearly disclose to consumers at all points of sale customer-specific fee information, or itinerary-specific information if a customer elects not to provide customer-specific information, for a first checked bag, a second checked bag, and one carry-on bag wherever fare and schedule information is provided to consumers.”

DOT said that “we are withdrawing this rulemaking in light of the comments we received” and that the withdrawal “corresponds with the Department’s and Administration’s priorities,” and is consistent with a Jan. 30 executive order signed by President Trump to reduce regulations and control regulatory costs.

“We are disappointed with the DOT’s decision,” said Eben Peck, ASTA executive vice president, advocacy. “While a far cry from the full transparency in and consumer access to airline ancillary fees ASTA has been pushing for since 2011, the Department’s January 2017 proposal requiring that consumers be notified of airline bag fees at all points of sale – including through travel agents – was a step in the right direction.”

“This withdrawn rulemaking was created to allow airline consumers to determine the full cost of travel, including airfare as well as ancillary fees together with their exceptions and exemptions,” said Charles Leocha, founder of Travelers United. Without clear, public data available to travel agents and on the Internet, travelers find it impossible to effectively comparison shop.”

Not making air travel great again
FlyersRights.org released a similar statement. President Paul Hudson said "This is NOT how you make air travel great again. Airlines are already exempt from all state and local consumer protection, much antitrust law, most other federal regulations and tort law. The DOT is their sole regulator.”

Earlier this year, ASTA published research that showed that 79 percent of travelers support requiring airlines to disclose all fees up front; that 75 percent of Americans believe the government should prohibit airlines from charging for carry-on bags; and 66 percent support the prohibition of checked-bag fees altogether.

Further, according to the ASTA study, Americans are seven times more likely to say the government favors airlines over passengers, with general consensus across genders, generations and income levels.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement posted on the department's web site that DOT “is committed to protecting consumers from hidden fees and to ensuring transparency. However, we do not believe that departmental action is necessary to meet this objective at this time.”

ASTA continues lobbying efforts
ASTA and others disagreed. “ASTA believes strongly that withholding important airline information from consumers who engage the services of a professional travel advisor harms the traveling public, and that those who purchase their travel through agents should be as informed and empowered as those who buy directly from airlines. While today is a setback, we intend to continue our efforts in Washington to make sure these travelers can see, compare and buy ancillary services through their agent,” Peck said.

“If the DOT refuses to correct abuses or enforce existing regulations … and repeals existing regulations, airlines will be the first U.S. industry to have stripped the public of all economic protections from unfair predatory practices. Only Congress and the federal courts can now override this unfortunate DOT decision,” said Hudson at FlyersRights.org, which says it has more than 60,000 members.

Leocha at Travelers United called the department's actions a “dereliction of duty” and “an abdication of their legal responsibility.”

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