As the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 continues to move through Congress, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) has issued a letter to top lawmakers warning of the impact the bill could have on travel agents.
In the letter, which ASTA sent as the House and Senate prepares to reconcile their two versions of the bill, ASTA reiterated its concern that many of the newly mandated disclosures in the bill would be burdensome to travel agencies. According to ASTA, the House version of the bill expands an existing disclosure requirement related to insecticide spraying, while the Senate bill adds a total of seven new disclosures travel agents would have to make during each air transaction, or face fines for “unfair and deceptive practice.”
ASTA argued that the mandated disclosures would increase the time spent per transaction, costing agencies an estimated economic impact of $29.8 million per year. Instead, ASTA suggests that, if new disclosures are to be added, the final bill incorporates an amendment (called the Lee Amendment) that allows some of them to be made upon the consumer’s request, and exempts phone call and face-to-face transactions from others.
ASTA’s second concern regards the bill’s requirement that travel agents disclose airline fees to their customers without requiring airlines to provide fee data to travel agents, meaning agents could be legally obligated to disclose information they don’t have access to. Instead, ASTA suggests that the bill require airlines and travel agents to disclose the fees for a first and second checked bag, as well as a carry-on bag, when providing airfare information, as well as require airlines to provide “useable, current and accurate” information on airline bag fees to all ticket agents.
The bill also includes provisions imposing new customer service standards on ticket agents with $100 million or more in annual revenue, which ASTA argues is unfair given the different market conditions between travel agencies and airlines. Airlines often have few or no competitors in a given city-pair market, and they are also exempt from state and local consumer protection laws, unlike travel agencies, ASTA said. Given that, ASTA argued that it is unjustified to impose new customer service standards on travel agencies, since it is easier for consumers to take their business to a different travel agency than it is to a different airline.
Finally, ASTA called for the removal of a section of the bill effectively overturning the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) full-fare advertising rule, which required advertised airfares to prominently state the full and final price to be paid by the consumer, including all government-imposed taxes and fees. ASTA argued that the provision has broad public support, citing a survey by research firm Penn Schoen Berland that had 79 percent of respondents supporting airfare transparency, including 82 percent of those who identified themselves as Republicans.