Embattled airlines will face a new challenge as a coalition of eight consumer interest groups criticized the airlines for two alleged major anti-consumer moves over the last few months, including pocketing tax monies that the groups believe should have gone to consumers and for continuing to obscure proliferating airline fees.
The consumer groups sent a protest letter to the Air Transport Association (ATA), who represents major U.S. air carriers, to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and to members of Congress.
"Many airlines chose to pocket nearly $500 million during the temporary shutdown of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rather than refund the discontinued excise tax charges and other government fees," the groups said, noting in the letter that the majority of airlines actually raised their airfares rather than pass the money on to consumers as savings.
The groups include: The Consumer Travel Alliance, Consumers Union, National Consumers League, Consumer Action, US PIRG(State Public Interest Research Groups), AirlinePassengers.org, Association of Airline Passenger Rights and Consumer Federation of America.
The FAA’s taxing authority expired on July 23 when Congress failed to extend the reauthorization of the agency, the groups noted. "At the same time, the Air Transport Association was delivering newspaper advertisements to Senate and House offices, calling for tax reductions in order to provide consumers more bang for their dollar."
The airlines that increased their airfares were able to collect nearly $70 million a day, almost $500 million in total, before the FAA’s taxing authority was reinstated on Aug. 8th, the group said.
“This could have been a profound teaching moment,” the consumer interest groups wrote, “regarding the benefits of lower aviation taxes and fees. Instead, we are chagrined that some airlines chose to pocket the substantial windfall created by the expiration of taxing authority. Rather than doing right by their customers, most airline CEOs decided to line their corporate pockets.”
Airline fees also came under fire. The letter urged the ATA to insist the airlines adopt greater transparency with respect to airline fees that can add substantial amounts to ticket prices. "When the Department of Transportation’s latest rules came into effect requiring airlines to inform consumers of the variety of optional fees related to the cost of an airline ticket, many of ATA airline members chose to present the information in ways that do not meet the test for a 'prominent' link on the home page. This is despite the DOT’s clear intent to provide transparency for consumers with respect to airline fees that can add substantial amounts to ticket prices."
“Actions speak louder than words,” the groups wrote. “Airlines, like all businesses, should be driven by customer service, price transparency and honest disclosures. Suffice it to say, we are disappointed in most of the airline industry’s response to the new DOT rules.”
The consumer groups are calling for a meeting with the ATA and said they will make the DOT and the appropriate Congressional committee chairmen and ranking members aware of their concerns.
• AirlinePassengers.org, www.airlinepassengers.org
• Association of Airline Passenger Rights, www.flyfriendlyskies.com
• Consumer Action, www.consumer-action.org
• Consumer Federation of America, www.consumerfed.org
• Consumer Travel Alliance, www.consumertravelalliance.org
• Consumers Union, www.consumer.org
• National Consumer League, www.nclnet.org
• U.S. PIRG, www.uspirg.org