Coalition Urges Strong U.S. DOT Airline Ancillary Fee Rule To Combat Unfair And Deceptive Marketing Practices
RADNOR, PA – Business Travel Coalition (BTC) today launched an official White House “WE the PEOPLE” petition-campaign requesting that true air travel comparison-shopping be restored for consumers through an early 2013 U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The coalition has until December 25 to secure 25,000 signatures. If successful, then the White House is committed to formally reviewing this request and providing a public response.
Since 2008, most major U.S. airlines have been charging for so-called ancillary services, such as for accessing premium seating, and have been hiding associated fees by withholding fee information from travel agencies. As such, agents and travelers cannot efficiently compare “all-in” prices (base fares and fees) of air travel alternatives and must visit numerous airline websites to search for fees and pay separately for the services. These hidden fees represent an unfair and deceptive marketing practice that is costing all air-travel consumers dearly.
In its petition to the White House the coalition points out that despite demands from consumers, major corporate buyers and the travel industry for fee information, airlines have been able to stonewall for 5 years, which is vivid evidence of a failing market. The coalition also noted that when Congress deregulated the airline industry, consumer protections were consolidated at DOT leaving travelers without any legal recourse under state consumer-protection laws or Federal Trade Commission authority.
“Unfair and deceptive marketing practices need not be intentional for a regulator to take action; they can result from the sum total of market participants’ policies and practices. The inability of travel agencies to quote and sell ancillary services for the airlines falls well within the scope of the DOT's authority to redress such practices,” said BTC Chairman Kevin Mitchell. “What’s more, DOT is the only regulator in the country with the legal authority, means and obligation to safeguard consumers’ interests. DOT must require airlines to provide ancillary fee information to all sales channels where they offer base fares so consumers can see, compare and buy the complete air travel product. DOT should publish for public comment and debate the strongest possible rule to protect consumers,” added Mitchell.
The WE the PEOPLE campaign model is a uniquely decentralized one in that any organization is free to copy all of the website's information and tools to their own websites for use with their various constituencies. The website - http://www.businesstravelcoalition.com/whitehouse.html - contains the following: the petition text with a link to the White House signature page, social media tools for consumers to spread the word, a comprehensive Media Center, a FAQ page and complete toolkits for industry participants that contain communications templates for use in encouraging colleagues, families and friends to get involved in this campaign.
The petition can also be reviewed and signed at http://wh.gov/IXhH.