In the second of two major decisions impacting the travel industry, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) tentatively approved a proposal that would help modernize the marketing and sale of airline products by enabling all of the market players – airlines, travel agents, global distribution systems (GDSs), and consumers – to “speak the same language” in their communications with each other through a common data transmission standard.
The new proposal for a data transmission standard was submitted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), DOT notes.
The Department said its tentative approval 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 absence of a common, up-to-date data transmission standard has meant consumers must check multiple sources to identify competing fare options and information about the comparative cost of additional ancillary services, such as extra leg room, Wi-Fi and advance boarding, that many of today’s air travelers view as critical to a satisfying trip, DOT noted.
The new data transmission standard to be developed under the IATA proposal would facilitate the development of systems to allow consumers and travel agents to readily access the information they seek, and make meaningful comparisons among all the choices in the marketplace, without necessarily having to check multiple sources, DOT said.
It would also enable travel providers to develop systems to better tailor their offerings to the needs of individual travelers with customized price quotes including not only the air fare but also ancillary services, DOT said.
The Department said it tentatively finds that the proposed communication standard would facilitate the development of systems that would create consumer access to more and better information, and give the industry tools to better respond to consumer demand creating enhanced efficiency and more competition in the marketplace.
When IATA initially submitted its proposal, a number of commenting parties raised concerns that for consumers to take advantage of the new system they would need to provide personal information that could create privacy issues and undermine the public benefits of the proposal, DOT noted.
IATA, together with many of the parties that had initially raised objections to the proposal, later filed a joint motion asking the Department to approve the proposal subject to new conditions addressing consumer privacy and various other concerns that had been raised. The Department’s tentative decision acknowledges these steps and further strengthens safeguards to protect consumers. DOT said.
The Department said it has added several consumer safeguards ensuring that those shopping for air travel could not be required to disclose personal information, and specifying that airlines and ticket agents would be obligated to follow their published privacy policies on the sharing and storing of personal information.
The DOT said it also made clear that consumers’ ability to shop anonymously must not be undermined by new data transmission standards for communications and marketing practices.
"Although an airline may request that consumers provide certain information voluntarily, consumers cannot be required to provide such information in order to receive an airfare or ancillary product quote. In addition, all of the Department’s regulations regarding carrier and ticket agents’ displays of fares and ancillary products would continue to apply," DOT said.
Parties will have until June 11, 2014 to submit comments in response to the tentative decision at regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2013-0048.
Answers to those comments will be due no later than June 20, 2014, DOT said.
Earlier, the DOT also issued newly proposed rules that would require the disclosure of fees for certain basic airline services such as checked baggage and require more carriers to report their performance data to DOT.
The DOT also proposed to codify the DOT's definition of a ticket agent to ensure that companies that offer flight search tools and receive a form of compensation are adhering to the Department’s consumer protection requirements.