Sen. Menendez Renews Call for Airline Fee Transparency

Sen. Menendez Renews Call for Airline Fee Transparency

WASHINGTON, DC - As airline fees proliferate, it has become increasingly difficult for travelers to determine the full cost of their trip before purchasing a ticket. U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) led a letter, along with Sens. Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer, calling on the Administration to require airlines to disclose the full range of ancillary fees associated with each ticket option in a way that consumers will know exactly what the final cost will be before purchase and can also truly comparison shop for the best price.

In a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell the Senators wrote: "Under current requirements, airlines post a list of ancillary fees on their homepages. While this is an important first step, this information would be more useful to consumers if it was fully integrated with the ticket purchasing process through all sales channels."

"Passengers should have the same ability to select options for seating, boarding, baggage, and other fees that are now separate from the base airfare, and view total price comparisons prior to selecting a flight or entering their personal information," they added. "This information should be frequently updated, as the fees charged by airlines are continually evolving; and passengers should have the option of paying these fees when they purchase their tickets, to shield themselves from future price increases."

Partially in response to the Clear Airfares Act and a Menendez-led letter to the DOT, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2011 announced new rules for airlines that require the full and upfront disclosure of hidden fees on their websites.

While that is a good first step, DOT is now determining whether to require better disclosure of the fees through all airfare sales channels. DOT's proposed rule has been in the works since 2011, but still has not been released for public review and comment. Sen. Menendez and two of his colleagues wrote to DOT Secretary Foxx and Office of Management and Budget Director Burwell today asking that this rule be expedited, and that they consider requiring that all ancillary fees are fully disclosed prior to consumers entering their personal information.

Sen. Menendez has been fighting on behalf of consumers for real transparency when it comes to extra fees associated with airline tickets and for making sure this information is clear before a ticket is purchased or even before personal information is entered. This means providing consumers with a complete, accessible, and understandable listing of total airfare charges, as well as any other possible fees that may be incurred on the flight (including: baggage, meals, blankets, headsets, changing reservations, changing seats, or extra legroom).

Full text of the letter follows:

December 19, 2013

The Honorable Anthony Foxx
Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20590

The Honorable Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Director
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Secretary Foxx and Director Burwell:

We write in regards to the Administration's ongoing work to improve the experience of consumers when purchasing airline tickets. During consideration of the most recent FAA bill, Congress considered various means of increasing the transparency of airline fees, and the Department of Transportation's (DOT) rulemaking requiring airlines to disclose all ancillary fees through a prominent link on their websites is a laudable first step. We urge you to build on this progress as you continue work on the Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections III rulemaking. We also ask that DOT and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) work to expedite this rulemaking, to ensure that consumers have full information when shopping for fares.

As airlines increasingly "unbundle" services that were previously included in the base airfare, it becomes more challenging for consumers to make full price comparisons prior to purchasing a ticket. Baggage fees, seat fees, boarding fees and other costs can significantly add to the base price, making what initially seemed like the least-cost airfare become considerably more expensive. In 2012, U.S. airlines collected over $3.48 billion in baggage fees alone-this is up from $464 million in 2007[1]. If consumers are expected to pay fees for services historically included in the base fare, they are also entitled to information on these fees in the most accessible and helpful format possible.

Under current requirements, airlines post a list of ancillary fees on their homepages. While this is an important first step, this information would be more useful to consumers if it was fully integrated with the ticket purchasing process through all sales channels. Using currently existing airfare sales channels, passengers can tailor their flight options based on preferred airports, departure and arrival time, duration of layover, and type of aircraft-and see how prices stack up depending on the options they select.

Passengers should have the same ability to select options for seating, boarding, baggage, and other fees that are now separate from the base airfare, and view total price comparisons prior to selecting a flight or entering their personal information. This information should be frequently updated, as the fees charged by airlines are continually evolving; and passengers should have the option of paying these fees when they purchase their tickets, to shield themselves from future price increases.

We strongly urge DOT and OMB to expedite the Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections III rulemaking, and to consider including in this regulation a requirement for the disclosure of ancillary fees through all sales channels in a manner that allows for full price comparison prior to a final purchase. Thank you for your attention to this matter, and for your continued efforts to create a transparent and fair system for air travelers.


Sincerely,

Robert Menendez
United States Senator

Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/subject_areas/airline_information/baggage_fees/html/2012.html

http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/subject_areas/airline_information/baggage_fees/html/2007.html