New Senate Airfare Pricing Bill Offers Another Take On Transparency

A new Senate measure, a direct response to a House bill that would remove taxes from displayed airfares, claims the high ground on transparency in pricing.

The ongoing debate over transparency in airfares just got a new wrinkle.

Weeks after the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a controversial bill titled the “Transparent Airfares Act of 2014,” supporters of a Senate measure tackling the same issue—how best to display the real cost, with taxes, of a plane ticket—say their effort has the true claim to transparency.

By no means should we undo the existing rule that enables consumers to see the full bottom-line price when they’re ticket shopping. They should have all of the information at their disposal.

The “Real Transparency in Airfares Act,” sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), would maintain the current Department of Transportation regulations, which require airlines and travel sites to include taxes and fees in the full airfare price, and would increase penalties for violations. The House bill would reverse the 2012 DOT rule.

“We may be living in the Information Age, but for passengers trying to understand the full cost of their airfare, it often feels more like the Stone Age,” Menendez said in a news release. “There are more hidden costs seemingly every time they fly—bag fees, seat fees, pet fee—for years, airlines tried to hide these costs from travelers, making air travel look significantly cheaper than it actually is.” The news release called the title of the House bill “Orwellian.”

The Right Move

Two groups that either fully opposed or took issue with parts of the House bill were much more welcoming of the Senate measure.

The U.S. Travel Association, which had questioned whether the House bill truly created transparency in pricing, emphasized that any new law on the issue should not roll back the current rule.

“If airline ticket sellers want to be able to show travelers all of the taxes and fees associated with the ticket price, there’s nothing stopping them from doing that right now,” CEO Roger Dow said in a statement. “But by no means should we undo the existing rule that enables consumers to see the full bottom-line price when they’re ticket shopping. They should have all of the information at their disposal.”

Meanwhile, the Business Travel Coalition, a for-profit trade group representing consumers and the segments of the travel industry, called Menendez “a champion of the consumer and their airline passenger rights” who was correct to counter the House bill.

“We look forward to working with his office to further shape consumer protections,” BTC Chairman Kevin Mitchell told Associations Now.

Not Worth the Trouble

Supporters of the House bill were less enthusiastic. Airlines for America (A4A) argued that the Senate bill ultimately distorts ticket prices—that including taxes in advertised airfares keeps them hidden from consumers.

“It’s an unnecessary bill creating a solution in search of a problem, as airlines already comply with, and DOT actively enforces, the current Full Fare Advertising Rule,” A4A spokeswoman Victoria Day told Associations Now. “Picking winners and losers across competing modes of travel and distribution channels is a distraction from the underlying problem that government is burying tax hikes in the advertised cost of a ticket, hiding these considerable charges from consumers across the country, including those in New Jersey, who pay them.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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