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US airlines might soon be able to go back to their sketchy ways of showing ticket pricing. Congress is proposing a 773-page, bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill. Tucked inside is language that would ease current pricing rules for airline tickets and eliminate transparency throughout the booking process.
In this proposal, first reported by Paddle Your Own Kanoo, airlines can advertise the lowest base fare, but need to separately disclose the cost of government-mandated taxes and fees later in the booking process. With the number of fees airlines have created, this could add a significant price difference to the base fare (fares used to increase dramatically and even double when all fees were not disclosed from the beginning).
The bill would roll back an Obama-era consumer protection law. That law made airlines advertise fares with taxes and other fees like fuel surcharges. The proposal is in the House and still is being worked on. If it were to pass, the Department of Transportation (DOT) could still choose what to allow.
Here are the parts of the FAA reauthorization bill that are relevant:
IN GENERAL. It shall not be an unfair or deceptive practice under subsection (a) for a covered entity to state in an advertisement or solicitation for passenger air transportation the base airfare for such air transportation if the covered entity clearly and separately discloses—
(A) the government-imposed taxes and fees associated with the air transportation; and
(B) the total cost of the air transportation.
FORM OF DISCLOSURE.
(A) IN GENERAL. For purposes of paragraph (1), the information described in paragraphs (1)(A) and (1)(B) shall be disclosed in the advertisement or solicitation in a manner that clearly presents the information to the consumer.
(B) INTERNET ADVERTISEMENTS AND SOLICITATIONS. For purposes of paragraph (1), with respect to an advertisement or solicitation for passenger air transportation that appears on a website, the information described in paragraphs (1)(A) and (1)(B) may be disclosed through a link or pop-up, as such terms may be defined by the Secretary, in a manner that is easily accessible and viewable by the consumer.”
The proposal directly contradicts the efforts of the Biden administration to strengthen consumer protections and crack down on ancillary fees related to travel. There is no way to spin this as good for travelers. It will cause confusion and pricing will be deceptive as it once was when booking flights.
Anthony’s Take: I don’t see how this will help anyone but the airlines. The lobbyist arm of the US airline industry, Airlines For America, has long wanted to weaken the consumer protection of all-in pricing and it looks like it’s making some headway again. There is no reason why the total price should not be displayed from the get-go as it helps consumers to budget and understand the costs they are paying.
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