NEWARK, NJ - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) announced that he is introducing new legislation today to boost consumer protections for air travelers by increasing penalties on carriers and travel websites that fail to post the total costs up front, and try to surprise customers with additional charges at check-out. The bill would double the maximum penalties to up to $55,000 a day for airlines and large ticket sellers who engage in these deceptive practices.
"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," Sen. Menendez said. "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."
Airlines and tickets sellers are currently required to do what's called "full-fare advertising"-showing the full base airfare to consumers, including all taxes. This important protection helps travelers understand the full cost of their base airfare as soon as they begin shopping for flights. But under the Orwellian-named "Transparent Airfares Act" proposed in the House of Representatives, airlines and ticket sellers would be allowed to break out taxes from the base airfare and list them in a different place on their website-making prices look lower than they really are, deceiving travelers about the full cost.
Sen. Menendez called the House bill "a gimmick" and "contrary to the title, the bill is a bad deal for consumers, and makes airfares less transparent."
Menendez's "Real Transparency in Airfares Act" maintains the existing rule that all ticket sellers must disclose the full airfare cost upfront to their consumers. In addition, it doubles the penalty for violating this law-from a maximum of $27,500 a day to a maximum of $55,000 a day for airlines and larger ticket sellers. The current $2,500 per day fine for small travel agencies would remain unchanged.
"These tougher penalties will make unscrupulous ticket sellers think twice before they try to pull a fast one on their customers-and pay heavily if they do so," said Sen. Menendez.
*Flight prices were looked up on May 1, 2014 for trips departing on August 1, 2014 and returning on August 8, 2014. The price for flight 1 was quoted on southwest.com, and flight 2 on aa.com. For flight 1, the cheapest non-stop flights were selected, and for flight 2 the cheapest 1 stop flights were selected.
Sen. Menendez previously introduced the "Clear Airfares Act" requiring full disclosure of ancillary fees, like seat fees and bag fees, before passengers are required to enter their personal information. Although it passed the Senate and stalled in the House, failing to become law, the Senator continues to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation to adopt this important consumer protection as part of a regulatory change.
Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. (NJ-10) and consumer advocates from NJ Citizen Action joined Sen. Menendez for today's announcement outside Newark International Airport.