September 4 - Consumer and Industry Groups on U.S. DOT Passenger Protections NPRM


Dot Should Ensure Consumers Can See, Compare And Buy Ancillary Services Wherever Airlines Choose To Sell Their Tickets

 DOT Should Rule On Ancillary Fees Immediately, Defer Other Proposals

Consumer and industry groups today held a press briefing to discuss the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) regarding airline passenger protections. DOT is seeking public comment through September 22, 2014. Within the sweeping NPRM, the groups focused their attention on DOT’s proposal to require airlines to provide ancillary fee data on baggage and seat assignments to ticket agents who are authorized to sell travel services on behalf of an airline.

The groups recommended three significant changes to the ancillary fees portion of the rule:

1) Requiring airlines to allow consumers to pay for their basic ancillary services at the time of ticket purchase through any distribution channels the airlines use.

2) Ensuring that airlines share ancillary information with all of the ticket agents they use, including GDSs, to ensure the information is broadly disseminated in a usable format.

3) Expanding the covered ancillary services to include boarding and change/cancel fees as well as any bundles that include the basic ancillary services under the rule.

Given the significant length and complexity of the NPRM, including many proposals that have not yet received deep review, the groups urged DOT to move quickly and aggressively to complete the rulemaking on ancillary fees and take whatever additional time is necessary to review and decide on the merits of the other proposals.

Additional analysis of the fixes to the ancillary fee proposal necessary to restore true transparency and comparison-shopping of the all-in price of air travel alternatives and to end unfair and deceptive airline marketing practices can be found at http://btcnews.co/Z8Ojel.

A recording of the press briefing can be accessed at http://btc.travel.

Additional information can be found in the NPRM Media Centers at  BTC (http://btc.travel) and Travel Tech (http://bit.ly/TTAonNPRM) including foundational documents, commentary, statements and analyses and press stories.

Quotes from briefing participants follow.

Philip J. Minardi, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Travel Technology Association: “From a policy position, it’s our belief – and one I believe we share with everyone on the phone today -- that consumers have the fundamental right to know the upfront cost of their entire trip, and not be surprised at the airport with extra fees from the airlines. In the final analysis, we think it’s imperative, and frankly way overdue, that DOT takes action in this regard. It’s time for the DOT to require airlines to make ancillary services available to consumers when they purchase a ticket.”  

Andrew Weinstein, Executive Director of Open Allies for Airfare Transparency: “To protect air travel consumers, we need to fix the significant problems they face in searching, comparing and buying ancillary services, which have become ubiquitous in the airline industry. The proposed DOT rule gets almost halfway there by requiring airlines to share their fees for baggage and seat assignments, but it fails to address the intertwined issue of how to buy those services at the time of ticket purchase. Playing peek-a-boo with prices will not address the underlying consumer harm, unless travelers can purchase those services wherever they buy their tickets.”  

Charlie Leocha, Chairman, Travelers United: “It is impossible for consumers to manually calculate all of the flight, airport, airfare and fee possibilities. It is impossible to accurately comparison shop for airline travel based on the full cost of travel. The buying process is unfair and deceptive for consumers attempting to purchase the services they will need on their flights.”  

Kevin Mitchell, Founder, Business Travel Coalition: “Market failure is defined as when the allocation of goods and services by a free market is not efficient. Put differently, failure exists where a market participant is made better off by making someone else worse off. That’s the reality consumers have faced vis-à-vis airlines for 6 years – ever since airlines began to aggressively unbundle their products in 2008. Another unmistakable indicator of a failed market is that airlines’ largest customers - corporations, federal and state governments and universities – their demands for transparent and transactable fee data have been ignored for 6 years. This would not happen in a fully functioning marketplace; one or more competitors would always step forward to meet the demands of their best customers.”  

Paul M. Ruden, Esq., SVP Legal & Industry Affairs, American Society of Travel Agents: "Prevention of unfair and deceptive practices is as much a central element of airline deregulation as is the power of airlines to set prices and enter and exit markets. Withholding information is a clear indication of competitive constraint that has the principal purpose of raising prices, which is exactly what is happening with ancillary fees. Under the governing statute, DOT has not only the power but the responsibility to stop the withholding of the ancillary services/fee information."  

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CONTACTS

Kevin Mitchell || 610-999-9247 || mitchell [at] businesstravelcoalition.com

Andrew Weinstein 202-667-4967 || andrew [at] faretransparency.org

Paul Ruden || 703-915-2481 || pruden [at] asta.org

Philip J. Minardi || 202-503-1422 || pminardi [at] traveltech.org

Charlie Leocha || 617-901-7776 || charles.leocha [at] travelersunited.

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