ASTA and its members held their annual Legislative Day last week, this year pushing for pro-travel-agent clauses in the FAA Reauthorization Act, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, and the End to Discriminatory State Taxes on Automobile Renters Act.
The biggest push was for the passage of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act—which passed within the week of ASTA’s visit—and the FAA Reauthorization Act, which was set to expire on March 31.
The Senate last week passed, and the House is expected to pass today, an extension of the current FAA legislation to July 15, “giving Congress a little more time to finalize a long-term FAA reauthorization bill,” said Eben Peck, ASTA’s senior vice president of government & industry affairs.
One disputed element in the FAA Reauthorization Act is the “Transparent Airfares Act,” which ASTA felt allows airlines and OTAs to advertise airline prices that do not include taxes and fees. Agents rallied for the act to be excluded from the FAA reauthorization bill.
“Airline ticketing is a common transaction for us and our clients don’t just want to know a base fare. They want to know how they much are the going to pay in total—and they want to see that loud and clear,” said Mo Noubani, owner of The Travel Box International, LLC in Orlando, FL .
Noubani met with Congressman Daniel Webster (R, FL 10th), and the feedback was positive, he said: “I was delighted to hear his views on this issue. He seemed to be in favor, and shared a laugh with me on the fact that ‘the price is never really the price’ due to scenarios that do not show the total price as the most prominent display.”
A second element of the FAA bill has to do with agents having to notify their clients that they may not be seated together. This is just one of the many disclosures agents must give to clients in a laundry list of fine print that must be disclosed after every transaction—another pet peeve.
Not allowing agents to see all the seats that are still available on airlines puts them between a rock and a hard place when trying to get seats for families to all sit together.
With the Reauthorization Bill still in the hands of Congress, ASTA still has “much work in terms of mitigating the impact of new disclosures travel agents must make when selling air tickets potential items include whether or not families flying together can sit together; whether a plane the passenger is taking will be sprayed with insecticide; a listing of all airline ancillary fees; keeping the so-called Transparent Airfares Act out of the final bill; creating a blue-ribbon commission to look at airline competition; and other issues,” Peck said. “We will fight tooth and nail to protect the interests of our members throughout this process.”
Another important issue for ASTA and its member was the Support the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act. ASTA estimates that at least two million additional Americans will visit Cuba by 2018 now that the travel restrictions have been removed.
Car-rental taxes were a third pressing issue on agent’s minds, since these taxes often are used for non-travel-related funding. About 31% of the cars booked in the $24.5 billion U.S. car rental industry are booked through travel agents. According to ASTA, the skyrocketing fees can come as a huge surprise to travelers. Car-rental consumers have spent $7.5 billion in taxes, funding things that have nothing to do with benefiting the travel industry.
In the end, talking to Congress “is a work in progress,” Noubani said. “I hope to see the results show in favor of agents. The day in my opinion was a success, but the work has only begun.”