Asserting that major U.S. airlines have been charging for ancillary services and have been hiding associated fees by withholding information from the travel agency sales channel, the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) - joined by a broad coalition of industry and consumer groups - have launched an official White House "We the People" petition campaign.
"During this 30-day effort we will be asking that true air travel comparison-shopping be restored for consumers through an anticipated early 2013 U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR)," Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the BTC, said.
"As such, efficient comparison shopping is not possible among competing airline offers nor is transacting a complete trip without having to go to different airline websites to search for service fees and pay for them separately. Consumers need to be able to see, compare and buy the complete air travel product," Mitchell said.
The industry will have until December 25 to secure 25,000 signatures. If it succeeds, the White House is committed to formally reviewing the BTC/Coalition's request and provide a public response, BTC said. The link to the petition: http://wh.gov/IXhH
The draft DOT NPRM will soon be transmitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for its due diligence and guidance back to DOT, the BTC Coalition notes.
"Airlines' policies in this area are driving up the prices of leisure and business travel. Having the White House more aware of the financial harm to consumers from hidden airline fees and having them encourage a robust DOT rulemaking would be very useful," Mitchell said.
In its petition to the White House the coalition points out that despite demands from consumers, major corporate buyers and the travel industry for fee information, airlines have been able to stonewall for 5 years, which the BTC days is "vivid evidence of a failing market".
The coalition also noted that when Congress deregulated the airline industry, consumer protections were consolidated at DOT leaving travelers without any legal recourse under state consumer-protection laws or Federal Trade Commission authority.
“Unfair and deceptive marketing practices need not be intentional for a regulator to take action; they can result from the sum total of market participants’ policies and practices. The inability of travel agencies to quote and sell ancillary services for the airlines falls well within the scope of the DOT's authority to redress such practices,” said Mitchell.
“What’s more, DOT is the only regulator in the country with the legal authority, means and obligation to safeguard consumers’ interests. DOT must require airlines to provide ancillary fee information to all sales channels where they offer base fares so consumers can see, compare and buy the complete air travel product. DOT should publish for public comment and debate the strongest possible rule to protect consumers,” added Mitchell.
The BTC has prepared Communications Toolkits at http://www.businesstravelcoalition.com/whitehouse.html for each industry segment to help efficiently communicate with stakeholders.
For example, corporate travel managers have the following documents to customize:
- memo to corporate senior management explaining the campaign
- note to a company's travelers describing how to get involved
- message to their TMCs urging their leadership in this campaign
- letter to local and national travel and purchasing associations counseling engagement
- email to managed-travel colleagues encouraging their involvement
- social media alert to family and friends with supporting tools
- press release
The We the People campaign model allows organizations to copy all of the website's information and tools to their own websites for use with their various constituencies.
The BTC website - http://www.businesstravelcoalition.com/whitehouse.html - contains the petition text with a link to the White House signature page, social media tools, a comprehensive Media Center, a FAQ page and complete tool kits for industry participants that contain communications templates for use in encouraging colleagues, families and friends to get involved.
Mitchell urges industry leaders to review the petition text at www.businesstravelcoalition.com/whitehouse.html and join the campaign. The link to the petition at www.WhiteHouse.gov went live on Sunday, November 25.