Published on : Saturday, September 6, 2014
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of airline travelers voiced frustration with having to take several steps to buy services such as checked baggage and seat assignment with their tickets, according to a national survey that consumer groups released Thursday.
The survey found 88% saying it was “very” or “extremely” important to require airlines to disclose those fees when selling the services through travel agents and websites, as the Transportation Department has proposed in a pending rule.
Some 71% of respondents said the rule should be strengthened to require airlines to sell those services when they sell the tickets, rather than waiting until a traveler arrives at the airport, for example.
“Comparison shopping is the basis for the free market,” said Charlie Leocha, chairman of the advocacy group Travelers United. “By hiding the prices of baggage, seat reservation and other services, airlines are deceiving consumers by only advertising and disclosing partial costs of travel.”
The survey comes at a time when the Transportation Department is collecting comment on its proposal, called Consumer Rule 3, until Sept. 22.
But airlines have strongly opposed previous consumer rules as unnecessary under deregulation, saying competition will yield the best results for consumers. Airlines are increasingly selling services piecemeal, collecting $6 billion last year for baggage and flight-change fees alone.
“We believe this proposal overreaches and limits how free markets work and will needlessly inhibit market innovations that are developing to meet customer demand for customized information,” said Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, which represents the largest airlines.
Under the department’s proposal, airlines and ticket agents would be required to disclose fees for basic services such as first and second checked bags, carry-on items and seat assignments at all points of sale. The proposal would also:
• Require large-volume travel agents to adopt minimum customer-service standards such as responding promptly to customer complaints and holding reservations for 24 hours without payment. Travel agents range from mom-and-pop storefronts to massive online operations like Orbitz.
• Require airlines and ticket agents to disclose the airlines actually providing flights under code-share arrangements on the initial itinerary displays on their websites.
• Prohibit travel agents from ranking flights of certain carriers above others without disclosing the bias in any presentation of carrier schedules, fares, rules or availability.
“These hidden fees lead to consumer surprise when consumers find out that services previously included in a ticket price must now be separately paid for,” said Kevin Mitchell, founder of the Business Travel Coalition of travel managers.