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Consumer Groups Say Transparent Airfares Act Is Anything But

A 2012 Department of Transportation regulation that simplified flight pricing drew praise from consumer groups. But a new House bill backed by the airline industry could roll back the rule, and it's leading to questions about what constitutes transparency in airfares.

A legislative fight over the rules for airfare pricing is raising an interesting question: What exactly does transparency mean?

That depends on who you ask. Supporters of a new House bill, the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, say it will “restore transparency to the advertising of U.S. airline ticket prices and ensure that airfare advertisements are not forced to hide the costs of government from consumers.”

But consumer and business travel groups that oppose the bill say it would create pricing that’s anything but transparent. “The name of the bill is just the start of the false advertising,” FlyersRights.org President Paul Hudson told USA Today.

Three perspectives on the bill below:

Industry cheers: The airline industry applauded the new bill, introduced by Reps. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) last month. The measure is a response to a 2012 Department of Transportation rule that required airlines to include taxes and other government fees in the advertised price of a plane ticket. The changes were intended to make price comparisons easier, but Airlines for America (A4A) argues that it “fundamentally changed” the way airline advertising works, hiding the effects of tax and fee increases on ticket prices. “This [rule] reduces transparency and treats airfare advertising differently than advertising for virtually all other consumer products, rendering air travel less price competitive when compared with other modes of travel,” the group wrote in a statement upon the bill’s approval by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier this month.

Consumer, travel groups object: According to critics, such as the Business Travel Coalition and FlyersRights.org, the bill would make it harder to compare prices online, because government fees and taxes wouldn’t be included in the cost of a ticket. In other words, the quote you see on Priceline wouldn’t be the full price of the ticket; taxes and fees wouldn’t be added until near the end of the purchase transaction.

Translucent, not transparent: The bill drew “tepid” support from the U.S. Travel Association, whose CEO, Roger Dow, argued that transparency is needed but that the bill doesn’t go far enough. U.S. Travel noted in a statement that the bill would “permit advertisers and other sellers of air transportation to hide the bottom-line cost of airfare in separate links or in pop-up windows, making it more difficult for consumers to quickly understand and easily compare ‘all-in’ prices among carriers.”

“The impetus for the bill is solid, but it could be more accurately called the ‘Translucent Airfares Act’ because it doesn’t go far enough in providing the transparency in airfare pricing that consumers crave,” Dow said in the statement. “It only gets halfway there by still allowing sites to obfuscate the full price of an airline ticket. If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right the first time, and finish the job.”

He added: “Don’t just swap one kind of transparency for another. Let’s take this opportunity to shine a full light on the costs associated with air travel.”

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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