Travel agencies can breathe a bit easier this week: a compromise bill to ensure the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs for five years does not include provisions that ASTA had warned could slap costly and time-consuming disclosure requirements on their industry.
Over the weekend, lawmakers hammered out a compromise measure in its FAA authorization bill, which reconciled differences between the Senate and House bills, and in the process dropped the disclosure rule that ASTA had fought.
ASTA said in a statement praised the lawmakers for “not imposing new and unwarranted disclosure obligations on the travel advisor community in this compromise.”
It also said it was pleased that the bill includes several pro-consumer provisions such as preserving the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) full-price advertising rule, which is geared toward punishing deceptive airline pricing, to banning in-flight voice calls to setting minimum standards for seat size and legroom to prohibiting involuntary bumping of passengers who have already boarded.
But the airlines also could claim victory, as they succeeded in derailing a congressional proposal to crackdown on ancillary fees.
That clause, which had been supported by a number of key legislators in both chambers, would have required that airlines justify the fees they charge for checking baggage, changing a ticket, and other a la carte services that aren’t included in the base fare. Last year, the U.S. airlines raked in $7.5 billion in bag and change fees, and that doesn’t include other charges such as advance seat assignments.
Several members of Congress have challenged airline executives to itemize their costs of providing those services; in particular, the change fees which often run as high as $200 a ticket. Critics argue that this fee is excessive, saying that it takes a few keystrokes to change a booking. Airlines, however, say that they’re protecting themselves against last-minute cancellations that could leave them with unsold seats, and they also note consumers always have the choice of buying a fully refundable ticket (which, it should be noted, is priced significantly higher than the non-refundable alternative.)
A number of consumer groups expressed disappointment over Congress’s failure to include any language on fees.
Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, called the compromise bill “a setback for the flying public, calling it “a missed opportunity for Congress to get a handle on the rampant growth of anti-competitive ancillary fees that result in so much consumer aggravation.”
“The airlines' tone-deafness in this area -- witness American, Delta, United, and JetBlue all raising bag fees to $30 per bag within weeks of one another this summer -- should make it obvious that they will continue to raise fees with impunity until Congress steps in.”