U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has introduced new legislation to boost consumer protections for air travelers by increasing penalties on carriers and travel websites that fail to post the total costs up front, and try to surprise customers with additional charges at check-out. The bill would double the maximum penalties to up to $55,000 a day for airlines and large ticket sellers who engage in these deceptive practices. Senator Menendez' approach differs from controversial legislation proposed by the House.
“We may be living in the Information Age, but for passengers trying to understand the full cost of their airfare, it often feels more like the Stone Age,” Sen. Menendez said. “There are more hidden costs seemingly every time they fly—bag fees, seat fees, pet fee—for years, airlines tried to hide these costs from travelers, making air travel look significantly cheaper than it actually is.”
In a statement, Sen. Menendez said airlines and tickets sellers are currently required to do what’s called “full-fare advertising”—showing the full base airfare to consumers, including all taxes.
"This important protection helps travelers understand the full cost of their base airfare as soon as they begin shopping for flights. But under the Orwellian-named 'Transparent Airfares Act' proposed in the House of Representatives, airlines and ticket sellers would be allowed to break out taxes from the base airfare and list them in a different place on their website—making prices look lower than they really are, deceiving travelers about the full cost," Menendez said.
Sen. Menendez called the House bill “a gimmick” and said, “contrary to the title, the bill is a bad deal for consumers, and makes airfares less transparent.”
Menendez’s “Real Transparency in Airfares Act” maintains the existing rule that all ticket sellers must disclose the full airfare cost upfront to their consumers. In addition, it doubles the penalty for violating this law—from a maximum of $27,500 a day to a maximum of $55,000 a day for airlines and larger ticket sellers. The current $2,500 per day fine for small travel agencies would remain unchanged, Menendez said.
“These tougher penalties will make unscrupulous ticket sellers think twice before they try to pull a fast one on their customers—and pay heavily if they do so,” said Sen. Menendez.
Sen. Menendez noted that he previously introduced the “Clear Airfares Act” requiring full disclosure of ancillary fees, like seat fees and bag fees, before passengers are required to enter their personal information. Although it passed the Senate and stalled in the House, failing to become law, the Senator said it continues to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation to adopt this important consumer protection as part of a regulatory change.
Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. (NJ-10) and consumer advocates from NJ Citizen Action joined Sen. Menendez for today’s announcement outside Newark International Airport.
U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow weighed in on the announced introduction of the Real Transparency in Airfares Act by Sen. Robert Menendez.
"I am encouraged that members of both chambers continue to work on the airfare transparency issue, because so far there hasn't been consensus on what transparency truly means," Dow said in a statement.
"Travelers are clear that the full price of airline tickets is one of their top concerns when deciding whether and how to travel. If airline ticket sellers want to be able to show travelers all of the taxes and fees associated with the ticket price, theres nothing stopping them from doing that right now. But by no means should we undo the existing rule that enables consumers to see the full bottom-line price when theyre ticket shopping. They should have all of the information at their disposal," Dow said.