Senate Calls for Transparency in Airline Fees

The ongoing battle over ancillary airline fees escalated a notch as U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) joined with other senators in a letter to Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood urging DOT action to protect consumers from hidden airline fees.

Airline fees must be transparent, passengers should be able to pay for services that have historically been included in the base fare regardless of when and where they book their ticket and airlines must make every effort to keep information on fees up to date, according to the letter.

The senators called for increased transparency from airlines about each and every fee associated with a ticket prior to purchase and said requirements are included in new rules currently being drafted by the DOT. The DOT rules should insure that all fees be up front, up to date, available at the time of purchase and allow for meaningful comparison-shopping by consumers. 

“It is incredibly frustrating – especially when trying to save money on travel – to purchase an airline ticket at a decent price today only to show up at the check-in counter next week and be hit with a bunch of fees unknown or unseen at the time of purchase,” said Menendez. “Quality comparison shopping for airline ticket prices shouldn’t be a guessing game, it should be a guarantee.”

Menendez outlined three areas that must be addressed in new DOT rules, including:

“First, airline fees must be transparent. If consumers are expected to pay fees for services that have historically been included in the base fare, then at the very least, they should be informed of all of the fees and their cost before they purchase the ticket…including baggage, seating, boarding, as well as taxes and any other fees before they make their purchase.” 

“Second, passengers should be able to pay for services that have historically been included in the base fare regardless of when and where they book their ticket.  Passengers often book tickets weeks or even months in advance…[and] are surprised to find that by the time they actually fly, the fees for core services have increased.”

“Third, airlines must make every effort to keep information on fees up to date. Consumers need real-time information about airline fees in order to make informed choices at the time of purchase.”

Menendez offered as an example a ticket purchased from Airline A, between Newark Liberty International airport and BWI airport near Baltimore, appears to be $21 dollars cheaper than Airline B’s ticket between the same two cities on the same day. That would lead many consumers to purchase Airline A’s ticket. However, the advertised fare does not factor in both airlines’ hidden fees. Airline A charges $120 round-trip to check in 2 regular sized bags, and up to an additional $500 round-trip to travel with your pet. That’s an added total of $620.00 in fees. Airline B allows you to check 2 bags for free, and only charges $150 to travel with your pet. That’s $150 in fees for the same service that Airline A charges you $620 for. At the end of the day, Airline A’s ticket costs $805.50, while Airline B’s ticket costs only $365.40.

“Airline consumers are often left in the dark when trying to figure out what hidden fees may apply to their ticket. Airlines often bury this information in confusing fine print or even change their fees after a consumer has purchased a ticket. Given the sheer number of fees airlines charge, it is simply too difficult for most consumers to figure out the math to determine what airline has the best deal – or if the deals can change even after purchase.  As a result, air travelers are unable to truly comparison shop,” Menendez said.

Senator Menendez’s Clear Airfares Act requires online airline ticket customers to have access to all ancillary fee information before they purchase a ticket or even enter personal information. “This means providing consumers with a complete and understandable listing of total airfare charges, as well as any other possible fees that may be incurred on the flight (including: baggage, meals, blankets, headsets, changing reservations, changing seats, or extra legroom).”

Senator Menendez noted that he had secured passage in the Senate of the Clear Airfares Act as part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill during the last two Congresses. Unfortunately, the FAA Reauthorization bill did not become law last Congress and has been unable to clear a Conference Committee between the House and Senate this Congress, Menendez said.

Visit www.menendez.senate.gov

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