Consumer groups today have launched an initiative to recognize members of Congress who stand up for air travel consumers and against H.R. 4156, the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014.
Signatories to a letter to Congress include AirlinePassengers.org, Association for Airline Passenger Rights, Business Travel Coalition, Consumer Advocate Ed Perkins, FlyersRights.org, National Consumers League and Travelers United.
The Business Travel Coalition (BTC) says the consumer groups are launching the campaign in small and mid-size community media markets to raise awareness that H.R 4156 would undermine the consumer protection authority of the U.S. Transportation Department (DOT), the only forum - state or federal, judicial or regulatory - where such protections exist for airline consumers.
The Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 is in response to airlines' objections to a DOT rule that requires them to advertise total ticket prices, with government taxes and fees included, BTC said.
"This legislation - spun as pro consumer and as increasing price transparency - would reverse that DOT rule and undermine a critically important airline consumer protection. Worse, the bill would enshrine into law airline drip pricing, a form of bait-and-switch advertising," BTC said.
"If H.R. 4156 had an ounce of consumer benefit, House Transportation Committee members, who voted for the bill, would be shouting that from the balconies of the Capital, especially in an election year. However, most members appear to be avoiding the press like the plague," stated Travelers United chairman and founder Charlie Leocha.
In addition to consumer blowback and press criticism of H.R. 4156, House members are now realizing that airlines misled them by stating that the DOT advertising rule forces them to hide government taxes and fees, added Leocha.
"Airlines falsely claim, and continue to double-down in the press, that the DOT rule forces them to bury taxes. The opposite, of course, is true. Airlines can list these amounts in an advertisement or solicitation so long as they are less prominently displayed than the total airfare," said BTC founder Kevin Mitchell.
"Moreover, airlines can list all taxes on ticket itineraries and further remind passengers of the taxes when printing out boarding passes. They simply choose not to," added Mitchell.
Consumer groups are united behind the DOT full-fare advertising rule that provides basic airfare price transparency, the groups said. Airline efforts to mislead passengers with partial pricing should be rejected and the recently announced DOT proposals for disclosure of baggage and seat-reservation fees should be embraced, BTC said.
DOT should ensure that consumers can efficiently find, compare and buy these services in the same transaction as the airline ticket purchase, according to BTC.
Efficient comparison-shopping and full price disclosure is what makes free markets work, especially complex ones like commercial air services, the consumer groups argue.
"The more consumers trust a purchasing process the more likely it is that they will buy more products and services more often increasing competition, market efficiencies, innovation and satisfied customers. These are free market outcomes that benefit all stakeholders in any industry. Congress should not be a party to airlines misleading consumers."