ASTA Weighs in on DOT Consumer Protections, Distribution Rules

travel agentThe American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has signaled its cautious approval of the two major DOT decisions regarding Resolution 787 and new proposed consumer protection rules.

ASTA said it is encouraged by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) latest proposed rules that recognize the importance of customers being informed of major ancillary services and fees associated at the time of purchase.  

ASTA cautioned that the DOT's 118-page proposal, however, contains a wide range of issues that still require extensive industry input. DOT's proposed rules were released this week.

RELATED: Industry Groups React to Two Major DOT Decisions

“ASTA appreciates that DOT is proposing to adopt one of its major goals—a requirement that airlines provide agents with real-time usable information about core ancillary services and related fees,” said ASTA senior vice president of legal and industry affairs Paul Ruden.

“And, while not specifically proposed at this stage, DOT has left the door open to the possibility of requiring that travel agents be allowed to actually sell the services so consumers can buy a ticket and ancillary services in a single interaction with the agent," Ruden said. 

There are other proposals contained in the rulemaking that appear to unnecessarily intrude on agency operations without likely material benefit to consumers, ASTA said. ASTA said that it will seek member input on those issues and comment in depth to DOT about them.

ASTA said the DOT proposal would: 

  • Require the airlines to disclose fee information for basic ancillary services, which DOT defined as first checked bag, second checked bag, carry-on item and advance seat assignment, to all ticket agents to which a carrier provides its fare information.
  • Require airlines and ticket agents to disclose fees for basic, additional services associated with airline tickets at all points of sale.
  • Require “large travel agents” – those with annual revenue of $100 million or more – to adopt minimum customer service standards, such as responding promptly to customer complaints and providing an option to hold a reservation at the quoted fare without payment, or to cancel without penalty, for 24 hours if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure.
  • Tighten the code-share disclosure for online itinerary displays so that any code-share arrangement is provide on the initial itinerary display.
  • Prohibit the biasing of flight displays without disclosing the bias.
  • Codify its broader definition of “ticket agent” to include online aggregators, such as Kayak and Google that offer flight and fare searches without issuing tickets.

ASTA  said it will be holding Webinars in the near future to obtain input from its members on these issues before submitting comments to the DOT.

Resolution 787

The DOT's proposed rulemaking on the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Resolution 787, known as the New Distribution Capability (NDC), also won conditional approval from the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).

In a statement, ASTA said the DOT's approval, with safeguards agreed to by ASTA in collaboration with IATA and other industry stakeholders, of a resolution creating the framework for IATA’s New Distribution Capability reflects the DOT's commitment to protect the interests and privacy of the traveling public, a priority that ASTA and its member agencies share.

ASTA said Open Allies, IATA and other stakeholders have been working on behalf of  their respective members and that the DOT’s action is a testament to the success of the collaboration.

"We look forward to working just as closely with IATA and others in the future as this standard, and others that may emerge, evolve over the next months and years," ASTA said. 

ASTA commented that the DOT action includes “several safeguards specifically designed to protect privacy, ensure competition and consumer choice, and make clear the voluntary nature of the standard and its availability to all airline industry participants.” 

"The DOT has made it clear that anyone shopping for air travel will not be required to disclose personal information, and that airlines and travel agents are obligated to follow their own published privacy policies," ASTA said in its statement. 

ASTA said it will be circulating to its members a sample privacy policy, and will communicate the need to have a privacy policy in place and to strictly follow those policies when it comes to collecting, storing and sharing of client information. 

ASTA  said it will continue to monitor the situation and let members know if any action is required.

"Additionally, we will continue to work in a collaborative fashion with IATA and other stakeholders to protect the interests of our members and the travel agency industry as a whole," ASTA said.