The Business Travel Coalition (BTC) has charged that airlines refuse to share fee data with the travel agency sales channel where more than 50 percent of consumers and virtually all managed travel programs purchase their airline tickets.
In a paper titled, “A Closer Look: Travel Distribution Transparency – Fishbone Diagram Analysis,” authored by BTC chairman Kevin Mitchell on the Open Allies website, Mitchell says this severely impacts consumer transparency, a consumer protection responsibility solely in the hands of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Open Allies includes hundreds of agents, corporations, travel management firms and associations seeking transparency in airline fees.
“There are many potential reasons for this marketplace breakdown, ranging from a push for leverage as airlines try to reshape who pays for distribution, a lack of competitiveness or competition in some airline segments, and a desire to obfuscate price. DOT has the unique ability to address this through rulemaking, and we are continuing to encourage that action, “ Mitchell argued.
He noted that current law prohibits “an unfair or deceptive practice or an unfair method of competition in air transportation or the sale of air transportation” by airlines and travel management companies.
“Consumers often do not see extra fees until well into the shopping process, or after the purchase, and sometimes not even until they arrive at the airport,” Mitchell wrote. “In this situation, the marketplace winner is not the airline offering the best value, but the one that does the best job of concealing its true all-in prices.”
The solution, according to Mitchell? The DOT needs to advance a rule requiring airlines to disclose ancillary fee information (e.g., checked baggage charges, at airport ticketing fees, etc.) in the same electronic and transactable formats used to publish airfares themselves.
“As such, DOT is the last bastion of consumer protection and has existing authority to require full disclosure of fee data, as it has historically done by requiring airline code sharing and change of gauge information be shared through the global distribution systems and on to consumers,” he said.
To read Mitchell’s entire paper, visit www.faretransparency.org.