Proposed Rule Means Airlines Would Have To Be More Forthcoming With Fee Disclosures

Purchasing plane tickets can be a painstaking task. First, you comb through options to see what fits your schedule, then you search high and low for a price that meets your travel budget. But upon arriving at the airport you’re faced with fee after fee and pretty soon, that travel budget goes out the window. Those days might be over, however, now that the U.S. Transportation Department has proposed a new rule that would require airlines to directly disclose basic service fees.

The newly proposed rule aims to make it easier for travelers to determine the true cost of a ticket, Reuters reports.

Under the proposed rule, U.S. airlines would be required to spell out the costs for extra charges, such as fees for checked bags, carry-on bags and advanced seat assignments, at all points of sale. Additionally, online sites that allow flight searches, such as Kayak, would also be required to provide more detailed information on ticket costs.

“Knowledge is power, and our latest proposal helps ensure consumers have clear and accurate information when choosing among air transportation options,” Anthony Foxx, U.S. Transportation Secretary, says in a Transportation Department news release. “The proposal we’re offering today will strengthen the consumer protections we have previously enacted and raise the bar for airlines and ticket agents when it comes to treating travelers fairly.”

The proposed rule would also expand the number of carriers required to report information to the Department about on-time performance, oversales, and mishandled baggage rates. Currently, only carriers who account for at least 1% of domestic passenger revenue must provide reports. The new requirement would move the threshold to carriers that account for at least 0.5% of passenger revenue, which would include Spirit Airlines.

Data collected through the reports will be publicly available in the Air Travel Consumer Report.

The new rule also includes the following proposals:

  • Require large travel agents to adopt minimum customer service standards such as responding promptly to customer complaints and providing an option to hold a reservation at the quoted fare without payment, or to cancel without penalty, for 24 hours if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date;
  • Require carriers and ticket agents to disclose any code-share arrangements on initial itinerary displays on their websites;
  • Prohibit unfair and deceptive practices such as preferentially ranking flights of certain carriers above others without disclosing the bias in any presentation of carrier schedules, fares, rules, or availability.

Wednesday’s proposal builds upon rules created by the Department in 2009 and 2011. Those rules raised the penalties for long tarmac delays and required airlines to announce full fares, including taxes, in advertised ticket prices.

According to the Transportation Department, the previous rules have created a better, more fair treatment of airline passengers.

However, the airline industry and Congress recently began pushing the ironically named Transparent Airfares Act that would essentially allow airlines to advertise only a fraction of the price consumers actually pay.

The department will collect public comments on the proposed rule for the next 90 days.

U.S. government seeks greater disclosure of airline fees [Reuters]

U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes Additional Consumer Protections for Air Travelers [United States Department of Transportation]