In a timely move in its battle for ancillary fee disclosure, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has filed comments in response to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) on Reporting Ancillary Airline Passenger Revenues. The DOT has proposed to collect more detailed information on airline revenues generated from ancillary fees, a move supported by ASTA, consumer travel advocates and agents.
In its comments ASTA said that although the Society strongly supports the adoption of the proposed rules, the fact that the “mystery of ancillary fee charges is worsening” led ASTA to call for clarification on two points. This includes boarding priority fees and seating assignments.
ASTA pointed out that if the DOT, as it has admitted, has difficulty determining the average total cost of air travel, it is many times more difficult for consumers to determine and compare costs.
“Multiplying new fees for seat selection, boarding priority and others are buried in large generic categories for reporting purposes, obscuring the role they play in airline finances and making measurement of the consumer impact impossible,” ASTA wrote.
“Boarding priority is becoming increasingly important as fees for checked and carry-on bags impact passenger behavior regarding the bringing of storable items on the aircraft. The list of specific reportable fees should, therefore, include ‘boarding priority fees.’ … The process of boarding the aircraft affects every single passenger on the plane and, short of the actual flying, is as integral to the travel as is possible," ASTA said.
“The other area of concern relates to ‘Seating Assignments.’ These should be broken out into separate or sub-categories to reflect class of service upgrades (such as moving from regular economy class to ‘super economy’ with greater seat pitches), specific seat assignment fees (i.e., you are able to reserve a particular seat identified by row and number, as opposed to arriving at the airport with no assignment and taking what is left) and seat-position fees (aisle, middle, window)."
"It is far from clear that these seating-related fees are going to be subject to normal competitive pressure, especially, but not only, if the airlines are not required to share the fee schemes with travel agencies or are not required to let travel agencies sell the ancillary services at time of ticket purchase or such other time as the airline itself offers them for sale," ASTA said.
ASTA called on the DOT to include the two sub-categories to ensure that the final data allows analysts to fully understand how airlines are using ancillary fees to raise revenue outside of base fair increases.