Consumers have the fundamental right to know the upfront cost of their entire trip, and not be surprised at the airport with extra fees from the airlines, said Philip J. Minardi, director, the Travel Technology Association.
The association joined with other major trade and consumer advocacy groups - including the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) - to urge the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to act on the DOT's Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on airline passenger protections.
"In the final analysis, we think it’s imperative, and frankly way overdue, that DOT takes action in this regard. It’s time for the DOT to require airlines to make ancillary services available to consumers when they purchase a ticket," Minardi said.
The DOT is seeking public comment through September 22, 2014.
Participant grouse include ASTA, the Business Travel Coalition, Open Allies for Fare Transparency, Travelers United and Travel Tech.
The groups focused their attention on DOT’s proposal to require airlines to provide ancillary fee data on baggage and seat assignments to ticket agents who are authorized to sell travel services on behalf of an airline.
The groups recommended three changes to the ancillary fees portion of the rule:
1) Requiring airlines to allow consumers to pay for their basic ancillary services at the time of ticket purchase through any distribution channels the airlines use.
2) Ensuring that airlines share ancillary information with all of the ticket agents they use, including GDSs, to ensure the information is broadly disseminated in a usable format.
3) Expanding the covered ancillary services to include boarding and change/cancel fees as well as any bundles that include the basic ancillary services under the rule.
"Prevention of unfair and deceptive practices is as much a central element of airline deregulation as is the power of airlines to set prices and enter and exit markets. Withholding information is a clear indication of competitive constraint that has the principal purpose of raising prices, which is exactly what is happening with ancillary fees. Under the governing statute, DOT has not only the power but the responsibility to stop the withholding of the ancillary services/fee information," said Paul Ruden, senior vice president, legal and industry affairs, ASTA.
The groups urged DOT to move quickly and aggressively to complete the rulemaking on ancillary fees and take whatever additional time is necessary to review and decide on the merits of the other proposals in the NPRM.
"It is impossible for consumers to manually calculate all of the flight, airport, airfare and fee possibilities. It is impossible to accurately comparison shop for airline travel based on the full cost of travel. The buying process is unfair and deceptive for consumers attempting to purchase the services they will need on their flights," said Charlie Leocha, chairman, Travelers United.