Technology Ready to Provide Consumer Access to Airline Fees

The technology exists to quickly, easily, efficiently and inexpensively to provide airline ancillary fee information to consumers, says Joseph Rubin, president, the Interactive Travel Services Association (ITSA). Ruben challenges the airlines opposition to real price transparency and assertions that there are technology barriers to full transparency.

"For example, the very same distribution companies the airlines trade associations attack operate many of the information technology, inventory and pricing systems of airlines around the world that are today pioneering consumer merchandising. In other words, existing systems could easily provide these services for airlines that have refused to provide these data to consumers."

Rubin says that there are technological solutions that are already in place that could provide real-time, all-in comparison-shopping benefiting consumers.

"The Airline Tariff Publishing Company (ATPCO), an organization created by the airlines, has had the infrastructure in place to display ancillary services in virtually all travel sales channels since 2010. Unfortunately, the airlines have refused to provide the fee data to power up the system. This could be accomplished quickly, as the distribution companies are ready and waiting for this data," he argues.

"Third party ticket distribution systems pioneered transparency in the airline marketplace, enabling consumers to make informed purchase decisions after comparing fare and schedule offerings efficiently, in real time, across multiple carriers.  This ability to comparison shop has kept airfares competitive and democratized air travel for virtually all consumers - a hallmark of airline industry deregulation," Rubin says.

"Implementing such a system for ancillary fees would reestablish airfare transparency for consumers, and could be accomplished quickly and efficiently with systems that are already in place," Rubin says.

He notes an uptick in media stories about the increased costs associated with flying, and about the frustration consumers often face when dealing with airline ancillary fees like baggage and seat reservation fees.

"While airline ticket prices have generally increased more slowly than inflation, ancillary fee revenue increased 66% from 2009 to 2011 to more than $22 billion. While these additional fees have left many passengers frustrated and angry, a significant aspect of this frustration could be resolved if the airlines would provide consumers with the opportunity to see, compare and buy air travel on a total, all-in price basis," Rubin says.

He notes that while many carriers throughout the world have made ancillary fee information available to consumers through various distribution channels, such as online travel agencies, regrettably, "U.S. airlines have vigorously resisted restoring comparison-shopping for their customers."  

Rubin argues that the lack of ancillary fee transparency has persisted for more than four years. "It has gotten to a point where only a regulatory requirement that the airlines disclose this information to third-party distribution channels will restore consumers' ability to compare all-in airline fares across airlines."

"While the trade associations for the airlines have claimed that they support transparency in airline consumer pricing, their actions speak louder than their words as they have opposed proposals that would require the disclosure of the all-in cost of airfare," Rubin said, urging real-time, all-in comparison-shopping for consumers.

ITSA represents online travel companies, Global Distribution Systems, independent travel distributors and companies that utilize technology to enhance their travel service offerings. 

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