Consumer and travel industry groups joined forces to express their "unequivocal" opposition to the Senate Commerce Committee adopting a companion bill to the House bill, the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 (H.R. 4156).
Led by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), scores of major agencies and associations expressed opposition in a letter to Senators Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ayotte (R-NH), chair and ranking member respectively of the Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security of the Senate Committee on Commerce.
"This airline-inspired bill would reverse a critically important U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rule adopted in 2012 as a cure to opaque and misleading airline advertising," the groups said. "Congress should be evaluating policies to strengthen DOT's consumer-protection authority, not ways to eviscerate it."
|Source: Office of Senator Menendez (D-NJ)|
H.R. 4156 was passed out of the House Transportation Committee with no hearings, the group said in the letter, at which stakeholders would have had an opportunity to inform Congress of their views and the flaws in this bill.
"In short, this proposed legislation would reduce price transparency, harm consumers with higher prices-paid and undermine DOT's authority to safeguard consumers from unfair and deceptive practices. Airlines efforts here are stunning and set a dangerous precedent for participants in any industry, such as gas stations and banking, to undermine their regulator," the letter said.
Citing media opposition to H.R. 4156, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, the groups said that airlines now hope to use Congress to override court decisions that support the DOT's regulatory authority.
"The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 consolidated virtually all airline consumer protections at DOT by force of the federal preemption doctrine," the groups said. Citing a recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, the groups argued that "except for the protection that DOT provides them, airline consumers (with rare exceptions) are absolutely bereft of any rights or remedies for unfair or deceptive acts or practices."
The real damage done by H.R. 4156, the groups said, "would be to destroy the only bastion of protection that consumers have and strand them in a consumer protection no-mans-land."
Senator Menendez (D-NJ) has proposed legislation that would increase consumer protections for air travelers by increasing penalties on carriers and travel websites that fail to post the total costs up front.The bill would increase penalties.