Families are encountering unprecedented hurdles to air travel, the Open Allies for Airfare Transparency says, charging that the problems could be eased if airlines focused on customer needs and kept fees for seating and boarding transparent and purchasable from travel agents. Open Allies is urging early action by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
"But since most airlines fail to do so, whether it's fees for seating that make it hard for parents to sit with their children, or barring pre-boarding for families with small children, families are particularly susceptible," Art Sackler, executive director of Open Allies said.
"What makes the behavior of the airlines even more exasperating for families is the failure to provide airfares on an 'all-in' (fares, taxes and fees) basis upfront," said Sackler.
"Because many airlines withhold that information, families can't figure out how much more it will cost them to sit together until after they purchase their basic tickets - and that could be hundreds of dollars round trip. And comparing prices among airlines including fees for seats or other add-ons before purchase? Forget about it," Sackler said.
By federal law, airlines are not supposed to engage in "unfair" or "deceptive" behavior, Open Allies said. "But withholding fees is certainly unfair, and may be deceptive. Such practices can result in surprised and unhappy consumers whose total trip costs
turn out to be far steeper than envisioned, unexpectedly reducing budgets for destination activities. But when it impacts families with small children, the effects are more than just fair disclosure of prices."
Open Allies argues that because airlines charge premium prices for "choice" or "preferred" seats, and reserve many for elite members of frequent flier programs, the time-honored methods of ensuring that families can sit together - a change at the gate, or flight attendants asking customers onboard to change seats - no longer work.
"If a customer has paid $45 extra for a specific seat, that customer is unlikely to want to change to a less desirable seat to accommodate someone else, including young members of a family."
"But with upfront disclosure of services, pricing and availability, and one-stop shopping with a travel agency or other travel services provider, families and other consumers could largely avoid such onerous circumstances," the association said.
Airlines have refused for nearly half a decade to restore comparison-shopping for consumers in this new unbundled services era, Open Allies says. "The Department of Transportation is responsible for consumer protection in air travel, and has
taken important steps on disclosure. But much more needs to be done to restore true comparison-shopping."
"The agency (DOT) is considering additional rules to ensure fees are transparent, up-to-date and purchasable through travel services providers with whom an airline chooses to do business. It is essential that new rules advance to implementation on an expedited basis. For families and other air travelers, justice delayed is justice denied." Sackler said.
Open Allies for Airfare Transparency is a coalition that champions consumer interests, believing that all airline fares and fees should be transparent and purchasable wherever the traveling public buys airlines' base airfares.
Members include more than 380 travel management companies, corporate travel departments, consumer groups and travel agencies.