The airline industry may face tough opposition from the traveling public and the industry to expansion of hidden fees, according to a new survey from the Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA), Business Travel Coalition (BTC) and American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).
The three groups released the results of an online survey of 1,396 travelers showing widespread surprise and anger over hidden airline fees for services such as checked baggage, advance seating and priority boarding. Two-thirds of consumers report they have been “surprised’ by additional fees at airports and that fees strained travel budgets.
The groups also launched a campaign – including a new website, MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com, that will allow travelers to tell their own hidden fee stories, create YouTube videos, and sign a petition to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) urging it to take action to require airlines to disclose those fees in advance through every ticketing channel.
The groups also announced that they were marking September 23 as “Mad As Hell Day!” and said they planned to deliver thousands of traveler petitions to the U.S. DOT on that day.
“As we come to the end of one of the busiest air travel periods of the year, millions of Americans are returning from their summer vacations tanned, rested, and mad as hell,” said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition. “They are tired of arriving at the airport and finding huge unexpected costs for travel services they thought were part of the ticket price. It’s time for consumers, corporate travel managers and travel agents to stand up and say ‘we’re not going to take it any more!’”
Conducted over the last two weeks before Labor Day, the hidden fees survey found:
• Two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents said they had been surprised at the airport by unexpected fees for things such as checking bags, requesting a seat assignment, getting extra legroom, or flying standby.
• Nearly a third (29 percent) said they were surprised often or nearly every time they travel via air by such fees.
• Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said such fees placed some or a great deal of unexpected financial strain on their budget for the trip, while more than a quarter (26 percent) said that those fees placed a great deal of unexpected strain.
• A nearly unanimous 99 percent of respondents said that they think airlines should be required to disclose all of their fees in advance on every web site that sells airline tickets.
• When asked to rank the fees they found most annoying, respondents rated carry-on baggage fees the most annoying, with 91 percent calling those fees “very annoying,” followed by seat reservation fees (88 percent very annoying), checked baggage fees (74 percent), and telephone reservation fees (67 percent).
“Hidden fees are a violation of a traveler’s most basic right: to know how much they will have to pay for their trip,” said Charlie Leocha, president of the CTA. “When two out of every three air travelers say they have been surprised by hidden fees at the airport, you know the current system is broken and needs to be fixed. Airlines should have to share their fees with every traveler, through every ticketing channel, to every point of sale.”
The three groups have called on Congress and the DOT to take swift action to ensure that all ancillary airline fees are fully disclosed to travelers through every distribution channel in which carriers participate so that the total cost of air travel options can be compared among carriers.
“For a travel agent, comparing air travel costs without fee transparency is like trying to read a book with half the pages torn out,” said Paul Ruden, senior vice president of legal and industry affairs for ASTA. “We must level the playing field to ensure that travel agents and their customers can make apples-to-apples comparisons of the costs of each trip.”