Several trade groups this week—including the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) and Travel Technology Association (Travel Tech)—shared written comments regarding the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on “Enhancing Transparency of Airline Ancillary Service Fees." Both, for the most part, were in agreement with the Department’s efforts to require U.S. air carriers, foreign air carriers and ticket agents to clearly disclose passenger-specific or itinerary-specific baggage fees, change fees and cancelation fees to consumers—although each felt the proposal was lacking in its relation to the GDS, among other things.
According to Eben Peck, executive vice president of advocacy, ASTA, the society “has long believed that consumers deserve full transparency with respect to airfares and optional ancillary service fees, as well as the ability to buy those services—transactability—regardless of the channel in which they elect to book their travel.” Thus, he adds, ASTA sees the DOT’s proposal as a step in the right direction “in that it requires airlines to provide travel agencies with ancillary fee information that is ‘usable, accurate and accessible in real-time’ and requires transactability for some ancillary services, namely those that enable family seating.”
The concerns come into play regarding the “finer details,” said Peck, “foremost among them being the requirement that travel advisors disclose fees for multiple services in each and every ‘offline’ transaction—even to repeat customers and frequent fliers,” which is expected to slow agency operations. “We are also concerned about the exclusion of the GDSs—the primary technology advisors use to fulfill client requests—from the universe of ticket agents with whom the airlines are required to share ancillary fee data,” he added.
At the same time, Laura Chadwick, president and CEO of Travel Tech, the voice of the travel technology industry and advocate for public policy that supports a competitive and transparent marketplace noted It’s in agreement that ancillary fee information should be provided to ticket agents but that it “strongly recommends that ancillary fee data be shared with all channels that distribute fare and schedule information,” including the GDS. “It is the most simple and direct way to solve the issue of ancillary fee transparency for consumers.”
“Our members are the leading innovators in creating consumer-friendly online travel information sites. We are deeply concerned about the DOT’s first-page search results requirements included in the proposed regulation,” said Chadwick. "These rules, if adopted as written, will clutter and confuse the online air travel shopping experience for consumers. This is especially true for travel comparison sites that display multiple airlines’ schedules and fares."
“In our comments and hearing petition, we argue that the Department should not displace ticket agents’ well-established expertise with a government-regulated website design mandate. Ticket agents should have the flexibility to design appropriate displays of ancillary fees and develop innovative new methods for consumers as well,” she continued.