A key senator impacting aviation regulations publicly championed the concerns of travel agents, that airline disclosures and other regulatory burdens are impacting the ability for travel agents to do their job.
During a discussion hosted by the Washington Post this week, the Senate Commerce Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) cautioned fellow legislators to pursue “reasonable” rules that provide consumers with fully-informed purchases, but don’t overly burden travel agents with lengthy disclosures.
Following on an answer by Maria Cantwell (D-WA), committee ranking member, Blunt said he thinks transparency is important, but “I don’t think some of the proposals are reasonable, where if you’re dealing with a travel agent they’d have to read everything that is possibly available to know about that flight, but that’s going to be available to you in multiple ways.”
“But to say that you have to be sure you’ve verbally heard from someone selling you a ticket everything they need to possibly know, eventually that’s going to add cost and it’s also going to mean you’re not going to have the kind of help you might otherwise, in your case, think you need,” said Blunt.
In a note to members of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), Eben Peck, ASTA executive vice president, advocacy said the organization was “pleasantly surprised” by Blunt’s remarks. Peck noted how ASTA for years has been making these same arguments both publicly in Washington, and directly during meetings with Congressional members and their staff, “in terms of the unreasonableness of travel agents having to make multiple fee disclosures when selling a ticket over the phone.”
“We wanted to share this with you and to thank you all for your exemplary support for the PAC [Political Action Committee] and for participating at Legislative Day,” Peck said. Nearly 150 agents, an all-time high, attended ASTA’s 2017 Legislative Day, which included more than 120 meetings with legislators and their aides.
ASTA’s PAC has increased by 147 percent since 2013, reaching $230,000 last year. According to OpenSecrets.org, ASTAPAC is now the sixth largest PAC in the travel and tourism sector, behind only the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the U.S. Travel Association, Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.
“Progress is measured in inches when it comes to Congress, but this exemplifies how a PAC is supposed to work. We have had multiple sit-downs with Senator Blunt since 2015, including with you all on May 8, and have made these arguments each time. A PAC gets us face time and the chance to make our arguments, and in this case the message got through,” Peck said.
Peck said that he and his colleagues will “follow up and monitor closely to make sure these sentiments are translated into action, but we’ll take a win where we can get one.” He said that “the huge win will be killing the Senate provisions, which will save our industry close to $30 million a year in ‘talk time’ and lost sales.”
Blunt however does support rules when a consumer doesn’t have access to digital technology or a smartphone. The senator said: “Now, if you say, ‘No, I don’t have a computer. I don’t have an iPhone. I don’t have any way,’ and you want to go through every possible fee that could be charged or what could happen with that flight, that’s an appropriate thing.”
Since consumers are choosing ultra-low-cost carriers and basic economy type fares, they should be already aware that they will face restrictions, Blunt said. Otherwise, they will choose airfares and airlines that charge fewer fees.
“If people want to be on airlines that don’t charge fees and those airlines still have a competitive ticket price, they’re going to choose that airline. And I think that’s what we see happening,” Blunt said. “The less you see that you’re going to be surprised by, the more willing you’re able to take that second flight on the airline that’s not full of surprises.”