Airlines’ latest plan ill serves customers

Industry has novel notion of transparency

By The Mercury

Funny thing about the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014. It wouldn’t make the cost of air travel more transparent; it would make it murkier.

That’s not the stated purpose, of course, of advocates of the bill, a group that starts with the airline industry. In fact, Katie Connell, a representative of A4A, an airline trade group, said, “The bill is entirely pro-consumer, as it is about restoring transparency and truth in advertising so airline customers can see exactly what they are paying for the actual fare and in taxes.”

If it’s truly pro-consumer, though, it probably wouldn’t be opposed by most consumer groups, including the Business Travel Coalition, whose clients spend vast sums of money on air travel. That association’s chairman, Kevin Mitchell, calls the Transparent Airfares Act “terrible on every level.”

What the bill would do is negate a Department of Transportation rule called, appropriately, the “full-fare advertising rule.” The rule requires airlines to quote fares that include all taxes and fees, in short — the full fare. Consumer groups support the rule. What’s more, when airlines challenged the policy in court, the policy was upheld.

Airlines, which realize that low fares attract customers, only want customers to know the airline’s price per seat, not the total price. Trouble is, when customers haul out the plastic to pay for the ticket, they are greeted with sticker shock in the form of various fees and taxes that hike the price by about 20 percent. Those fees are not incidental; they help pay for air traffic control, airport security and other elements of air travel.

The airlines say they ought to be able to advertise the lower price and separate that from the fees, yet nothing now is preventing them from itemizing the costs.

The Transparent Airfares Act would make the true cost of an airline ticket harder to know, not more transparent. Airline executives who think that teasing customers with a deceptively low ticket price will win them over ought to come up with another tactic.

A couple of suggestions for airline execs: Remember that the hordes at the check-in counters are people, not cattle, eliminate or at least lower baggage fees and go back to treating customers to soft drinks and snacks. Maybe customers will remember what it was they once enjoyed about flying.

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