Consumer Advocate Blasts Airline Fee Policy

Travel agent professionals can be certain that the controversy over airline price transparency isn’t going to go away anytime soon, especially with airlines and consumer groups at odds over the transparency of ancillary fees.

One example is Charles Leocha’s response to an airline industry talking points memo. Leocha’s memo was written in response to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill proceedings currently taking place. Votes are scheduled for today in the House of Representatives.

Leocha is the publisher of Consumer Traveler and the director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a non-profit consumer advocacy group that champions passenger rights and works toward greater transparency in airline fees. He has worked closely with the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and the Business Travel Coalition (BTC).

Key points in Leocha’s memo, which defends travel agents and consumers’ rights to accurate information on ancillary fees. It includes the following excerpts:

“Don’t fall for the airline misrepresentations. Let me be absolutely clear. There is no consumer support for the airline positions. Representatives of Consumers Union, Consumer Federation, National Consumers League and the Consumer Travel Alliance all met jointly with the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Transportation (DOT) yesterday to support airline price transparency with ancillary fee data being passed to all travel agents. Consumers are totally united against the airline fees being hidden from travel agents and being difficult to uncover on airline websites.”

“Direct-connect technology may work on an airline-by-airline basis but does not allow across airline comparisons. If the airlines are allowed to use this system and exclude travel agents and the computer systems that power them, consumers will lose the ability to compare prices across airlines.”

“Consumers want to know the total cost of travel. Airlines continue to hide the cost of their ancillary fees and make them difficult to find. Ask the American Airlines representative to find a domestic flight change fee and show you that fee on the site. You will be amazed when you see its ‘transparency,’ if they can find it.”

“Airlines claim there are no hidden fees. That is patently false. Whenever you refuse to disclose fees to your sales channels, those fees are by definition hidden from anyone using that sales channel. It is unfair to consumers.”

“Airlines claim that they do not want to commoditize their product. That is a sorry excuse to use to justify the deceptive practice of hiding their fees and making them difficult to compare across airlines. In fact, the airlines commoditize their own product by code-sharing which announces to the world that their seats are the same no matter what airline you fly.”

“As for the pitch that the consumer groups working for transparency are simply pawns of the GDSs, phooy!! I am sorry, but the Consumers Union, the National Consumers League and the Consumer Federation of America have long been working in Washington, D.C., and the Consumer Travel Alliance has been working on this issue for more than two years. Ask the DOT whether any of these groups are working for GDSs. That accusation from the airlines is simply shameful.”

“Their plea to protect consumers is laughable. Repeatedly, the DOT has had to intervene in order to protect consumers from the airlines. That is the reason for one of the most extensive passenger protection NPRMs [rule making] ever initiated by the DOT. We consumers do not want the airlines to protect us. We want the airlines to tell us the total cost of how much it will cost to fly and allow us to compare airfares and airline fees across airlines with all it their permutations.”

“We do not want the airlines to control what information we receive and when we receive it while we are trying to purchase airline tickets. The airline actions are anti-competitive and anti-consumer. Airlines control how many fees we pay. Airlines control how much we pay in fees. Airlines choose who they want to sell their tickets through. The airlines are in total control of the system. Consumers are mad as hell and want to be told how much an airline ticket, complete with ancillary fees, will cost and be allowed to compare prices everywhere the airlines sell their tickets. It is as simple as that.”


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