Charlie Leocha, Director, Consumer Travel Alliance and the consumer member of DOT’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection (ACACP), proposed that at their meeting on October 2, 2012, the committee stand firmly on the side of consumers by agreeing:
- Airlines be required to clearly inform passengers of the basic costs of travel — airfare, baggage fees and seat-reservation fees at the time of purchase — at every point where they choose to sell airline tickets and allow full transaction of the entire purchase.
There is no reason that consumers should not know the cost of what they are buying prior to the final purchase and no reason consumers should have to go to another sales outlet to complete their purchase.
Mr. Leocha’s email to other committee members follows:
The committee heard almost a full day about the issue of presenting consumers airline fees together with airfares so that they can make educated decisions about airline transportation.
The issues have developed into arguments between the airlines, on one side, and GDSs, travel agents, consumers and corporate travel managers on the other. Somewhere, I suspect that there are hardball contract negotiation tactics involved.
However, even if airlines and the rest of the travel industry continue to fight with each other, consumers have a right to know the basic cost of travel including airfare and passenger-specific baggage fees and seat-reservation fees when making ticket-purchase decisions.
In the discussions not one airline indicated that they would face a financial burden by being forced to disclose prices. The representative from Sabre announced that his company, the largest provider of GDS services in the U.S. would not charge for processing ancillary fees. The only harm seems to be to consumers who are faced with incomplete disclosure about basic airline fees during the buying process.
We are an advisory committee on aviation consumer protections. The public is faced with a conscious decision by the airlines to limit information that is presented to passengers when they are making purchasing decisions.
When consumers can’t figure out the final price of travel and comparison shop; when corporate travel managers, the airlines’ biggest clients, can’t get pricing information they need for budgeting and traveler reimbursements; when travel agents, sales agents of the airlines and approved by the airlines, cannot tell their clients the full price of travel and sell the airlines’ product, the free market system is broken and not functioning. It has been this way since 2008 when American Airlines began charging for luggage and started the process of unbundling airfares.
DOT needs to take a stand. The airlines, though they are private companies, operate only with massive taxpayer investments and guarantees in airports and air traffic control systems. Plus, the airlines are not subject to normal consumer protection laws. They are shielded by federal preemption.
There is no other major purchase in our country where the total cost is not clearly identified upfront prior to purchase. The current airline actions are simply misleading and deceptive.
Airlines and their distribution system may change dramatically in the future. However, through the coming changes, consumers should be able to make their purchase without having basic prices shrouded.
Perhaps the easiest solution to this problem is to rebundle what the airlines unbundled — make the basic cost of travel airfare, baggage fees and seat-reservation fees. This will allow airlines to play games with other ancillary fees, mix and match them as they see fit, and do what they will to make their airline seat appear different that the seat on a competitor’s flight.
The next meeting of the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections will be held at the Department of Transportation on October 2nd, 2012.
Anyone planning to attend this meeting should contact Amanda Stokes, Associate Research Analyst, Centra Technology, Inc., [email protected], 703–894–6529.