OPINION: Airlines wrong to challenge Biden 'transparency' rule

As you may have heard, six U.S. airlines - American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL), Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL), United Airlines (NASDAQ:UAL), jetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU), Alaska (NYSE:ALK) and Hawaiian (NASDAQ:HA) -  are suing the Biden Administration in an attempt to halt implementation of an ancillary fee rule which would require airlines to show fees for checking a first or second bag, carrying on a bag, changing a reservation or canceling a reservation the first time the fare is provided

The Department of Transportation says the rule would protect people from hidden junk fees and ensure travelers can see the full price of a flight before they purchase a ticket. This could save consumers more than $500 million a year. 

And the airlines are fighting this?  

You bet. According to the Bureau of Transportations Statistics, airlines collected nearly $5.5 billion in baggage fees last year, and there's little doubt that much of that came as a surprise to unwary or infrequent travelers. A survey by Consumer Reports revealed that 85 percent of Americans have encountered an unexpected or hidden fee in a number of industries, not just the airlines, over the previous two years.

Earlier this year, a survey published by the IdeaWorksCompany showed that three U.S. airlines -- Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit which, interestingly, are not parties to this lawsuit -- derived more than 45 percent of their revenue from add-on charges.  In other words, the average all-in price of any given ticket will be dramatically higher than the originally cited ticket "price." 

The Administration's rule won't eliminate the charges but it will stop the shell game.

Bag charges by airline

Here's my open letter to the CEOs of these airlines. Feel free to send your own versions. I'll provide contact information at the conclusion.

Lady and gentlemen:

Shame on you for joining your puppet agency, Airlines for America, in suing the Biden Administration to get its rules on airline ticket transparency overturned.

As a frequent traveler and travel blogger, I cannot adequately express how much I despise ancillary fees, and how your actions to quash greater transparency anger me.

Additional transparency, which was also called for by the Obama Administration's National Economic Council, is long overdue. Very, very few people travel without some kind of luggage, and NO ONE flies without being strapped into a seat. To charge – separately – for checked bags (and sometimes carry-on bags as well) and seat selection serves no one but you, the rapacious airlines.

To be clear, this rule does NOT prohibit you from charging these outrageous fees. You just have to disclose them the first time a fare is provided to the potential customer, not at or near the end of the transaction.  

Fees to upgrade to premium economy, for early boarding, for food and drink, lounge access, and other things that are truly optional are fine, but luggage and seat selection? Give. Me. A. Break.

You should be rejoicing that all you’re being required to do is disclose these fees up front. I would like to see you required to build them into your fares and not be allowed to charge separately for them at all. In fact, t
he Obama Administration's report called for exactly that: 

Conclusion of the "Hidden Fees" report, issued December 2016

Importantly, as both Administrations have said, this transparency needs to extend to hotels that levy so-called “resort charges" and to ticket sellers that add “convenience fees.”

Contrary to what Airlines for America says, implementing the rule is not "arbitrary and capricious." It is specifically designed to help alleviate a problem you created. It will NOT confuse customers and complicate shopping for flights. It will make comparison shopping easier.

Get back to providing service to your passengers, and stop treating us like ignorant cash cows. Only then can you even hope to reclaim the respect given to airlines in the decades gone by.

Carl Dombek, Founder and Publisher

You can share your thoughts (and frustrations) directly with these CEOs at the following addresses:

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Graphic by IdeaWorks.com
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