More transparency does not mean misleading consumers over the final price of an airline ticket. A bipartisan proposal in Congress to relax all-in pricing rules for airline tickets would undermine transparency and needlessly confuse consumers.
Congress Proposes Change That Would Allow Airlines To Obscure Final Cost Of Tickets
As noted by One Mile At A Time, the 750-page bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill includes language that would weaken the requirement that airlines display all-in pricing for tickets at all stages of the booking process and in advertisements. Under the proposal, airlines would not have to display government taxes as long as they were disclosed in some other way, including via a link.
Here is the pertinent language in the bill:
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.
It would allow “base airfare” to be displayed while excluding taxes and fees provided there is a link to the all-in price or the final price is disclosed in some other way.
I do understand the other side. In the distant past when carriers were allowed to not only to shield government taxes but also “carrier-imposed chargers” (called “fuel surcharge” back then) that often doubled or tripled the price of the ticket. Here, only government taxes would be shielded from the initial fare display and it is reasonable for consumers to understand how much of their ticket is government taxes.
Yet there is a better way to do this than allow airlines to deceptively obscure all-in fares. Airlines are already able to provide a clear and unambiguous breakdown of the airfare versus taxes and fees. The current Obama-era rule simply requires that the all-in price be displayed at points of the purchasing process. Airlines already have a way to highlight how much of your ticket is government taxes. Thus, there is no problem that requires fixing.
Finally, without getting too deep into the issue of taxes here, the notion that government taxes are not part of the airfare is also absurd: it takes money to support the infrastructure and air traffic control necessary to operate commercial flights and it is reasonable that airline customers support the infrastructure they use (versus a general tax on everyone). I don’t like high taxes either, but airports and air traffic control systems do not build and sustain themselves out of thin air.
Put simply, this rule change is bad news. It has been a long-standing priority of Airlines For America, the lobbyist arm of the US airline industry, to weaken the consumer protection of all-in pricing and once again it is trying to do so here in a way that objectively hurts consumers. Their “problem” with merging the fare with government taxes already has a solution: airlines are free to highlight in bold flashing large text how much taxes are. That cannot and should not change displaying what the final price is for an airline ticket at all stages of the booking process.
Is Congress reasonable in considering a bill that would obscure the cost of airline tickets?