Federal Advisory Panel Recommends Clearer Disclosure Of Airline, Hotel Resort Fees

It’s no secret that airlines have increased their fees and shrunk the size of their seats over the years in an attempt to maximize revenue. While those extra costs and seat sizes are generally available through the carrier’s website, a federal panel thinks that information would better serve passengers if it were readily available during the ticket purchasing process.

That was just one recommendation from the Advisory Committee For Aviation Consumer Protections meeting on Tuesday, which included several suggestions related to the travel industry, namely regarding airline and hotel fees.

When it came to recommendations for the airline industry, the panel determined that carriers should clearly disclose the cost of change and cancellation fees, as well as the size of a plane’s seats before the purchase of a ticket is made.

The recommendations – which will form the basis for a report to Department of Transportation’s on improvements to be made for existing consumer protection programs – came after the panel heard testimony from passengers about the difficulty they encounter when trying to find information about change or cancellation fees on airlines’ websites and their claims that airlines hid fee information in the fine print of tickets.

The issue of seat shrinkage was discussed by the panel following concerns that passengers may not be able to properly exit planes in the case of an emergency.

Those fears have increased in recent years as airlines have decreased the distance between a seat and the seat in front of it by as much as six inches in order to cram more passengers on flights, the Associated Press reports.

Charles Leocha, a panel member and founder of consumer group Travelers Union, said that while the Federal Aviation Administration requires that aircraft makers demonstrate that all passengers can be evacuated from a plane within 90 seconds, most planes in use were tested before seating room was reduced.

The panel recommended that the FAA conduct more realistic evacuation tests on planes with seats closer together and that airlines include seat dimensions clearly on their websites.

Additionally, the panel encouraged the DOT to continue investigating the safety and security issues related to inflight mobile electronic communications.

“The panel recommends that, if safe and secure, the DOT allow airlines to decide whether passengers can use mobile phones for in-flight calls,” Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania Attorney General and panel member said.

In addition to addressing changes related to airlines, the panel also handed down recommendations for the hotel industry, specifically regarding the increased use of mandatory surcharges called “resort fees.”

Back in 2012, the Federal Trade Commission sent warnings to 22 different hotel operators warning them that they weren’t doing enough to disclose these fees, but no legal actions have been taken since, in spite of the fact that some popular tourist destinations are hiding their resort fees until the final payment screen.

In July, consumer advocacy groups called on the FTC to put an end to the deceptive fees and take action against hotel operators that refused to follow the orders.

On Tuesday, the Advisory Committee For Aviation Consumer Protections echoed some of those sentiments with a recommendation – directed at the FTC – that hotels be required to include any mandatory fees in their room rates.

“If the room is $125 a night and resort fee is $50, they now have to say the room is $175, that’s our recommendation,” Kane said.

Leocha noted that hotels can continue to list their fees separately once a consumer is at the facility, when it comes to booking the price must include all fees as one figure.

[via The Associated Press]

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