The Honorable Peter A. DeFazio
United States House of Representatives
2134 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-3704
Dear Representative DeFazio,
I have worked with you and your office for some fifteen years; you are without equal in Congress when it comes to airline consumer protections. I write to you today with deep concern that the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has scheduled a markup of the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 (H.R. 4156) at 11:00am tomorrow, Wednesday without hearings or a process that would otherwise secure the formal views of consumer groups. This draft bill, which urgently needs to be fixed, would effectively reverse a 2012 U.S. Department of Transportation advertising rule and undermine a critically important consumer protection. (See March 2014 BTC analysis at http://btcnews.co/1eapcOG.)
The most pernicious consumer consequences of H.R. 4156 are with regard to Internet advertising. Airlines would be free to conspicuously display lower base ticket prices on initial screens and then disclose higher total ticket prices, including government taxes and fees, on other parts of their websites through a "link or pop up.” This represents an open invitation for deceptive airline marketing practices.
The immediate need is to fix H.R. 4156 with an amendment, required to be submitted by 1:00pm today, that requires that the base airfare, government taxes and fees and the total airfare be prominently displayed on an initial website screen, or in a print advertisement. A brief delay to the markup scheduled for tomorrow would provide ample opportunity to explore how to vastly improve H.R. 4156 and truly safeguard consumers’ interests.
With airline industry consolidation to a few major network carriers, it is imperative that consumer protections be modernized. H.R. 4156 weakens DOT’s enforcement capability instead of strengthening it. Perhaps you could initiate a colloquy with Representative Shuster about how you support the bill’s intent and how you would like to work with the Chairman to improve the bill by ensuring more transparency for consumers while shining a light on government-imposed taxes and fees.