DOT Withdraws Ancillary Fee Rule; ASTA Weighs In

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The Department of Transportation (DOT) has withdrawn two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding airline ancillary fees, and the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and other travel industry groups say they are disappointed by the decision.

The NPRM, which was first issued in 2011 during the Obama administration, would have collected detailed revenue information on airline ancillary fees, such as those for checked baggage. A second, supplemental NPRM issued this past January would have required the disclosure of such fees at all points of sale, including by travel agents.

In announcing its decision the DOT said that it believes existing regulations already provide consumers some information regarding fees for ancillary services. It also cited an executive order by President Donald Trump aimed at reducing government regulations.

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“We are disappointed with the DOT’s decision,” said ASTA’s Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy, in a statement provided to Travel Agent. “While a far cry from the full transparency in and consumer access to airline ancillary fees ASTA has been pushing for since 2011, the Department’s January 2017 proposal requiring that consumers be notified of airline bag fees at all points of sale – including through travel agents – was a step in the right direction.”

Peck said that ASTA believes strongly that withholding important airline information from consumers who use travel agents harms the traveling public, and that those who do should be as informed as those who buy directly from airlines.

“While today is a setback, we intend to continue our efforts in Washington to make sure these travelers can see, compare and buy ancillary services through their agent,” Peck said.

ASTA also noted that, in its 2017 consumer research, 79 percent of travelers supported requiring airlines to disclose all fees up front. Additionally, 75 percent said that the government should prohibit airlines from charging for carry-on backs, and 66 percent supported banning checked bag fees. The study also found that Americans are seven times more likely to say that the government favors airlines over passengers.

Travel advocacy organization Travelers United argued that the withdrawal of the rulemaking would harm travelers’ ability to know the full price of travel and comparison shop.

“We are a country that has been built on allowing the market system to work, on competition, and on giving the Americans the ability to comparison shop,” Travelers United said in a statement in response to the decision.

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