And this time we’re talking about the parts of the fare the airline collects versus those the government keeps. Spirit Air sued the DoT when the recent rules requiring “full-fare” advertising were launched, claiming that they reduced transparency as the “government regulations require [Spirit] to HIDE taxes in your fares.” Of course, there is nothing preventing the airlines from sharing that extra data if they want to. In fact Spirit still does, though most other carriers do not. Why? Probably because most customers do not care who they’re paying; they simply want to accurately know how much they’ll have to pay.
But that isn’t going to stop the US Congress from doing something about the situation. A small group of congressmen have introduced the “Transparent Airfares Act of 2014” in the US House of Representatives. The bill will alter 49 U.S. Code § 41712, the section covering “Unfair and deceptive practices and unfair methods of competition.” This is the section the DoT has used in recent years to enforce things like the 3-hour tarmac rule, prohibiting fare changes after tickets are issued and requiring full fare disclosure to customers. The proposed language would be added to the existing text (which, interestingly enough, doesn’t actually say that the airlines must disclose the full price up front):
(d) FULL FARE ADVERTISING.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—It shall not be an unfair or deceptive practice under subsection (a) for a covered entity to state in an advertisement or solicitation for passenger air transportation the base airfare for the air transportation if the covered entity clearly and separately discloses—
(A) the government imposed taxes and fees associated with the air transportation; and
(B) the total cost of the air transportation.
There is more to the rule, including allowing the airlines or travel agencies to show the details online behind a link or a pop-up. But that’s not the meat of the issue. There’s also a part where the proposed text explicitly states, “Nothing in the amendment made by subsection (a) may be construed to affect any obligation of a person that sells air transportation to disclose the total cost of the air transportation, including government imposed taxes and fees, prior to purchase of the air transportation.” In other words, the full fare disclosure is still required.
So, what’s the point of this rule??
Seriously, I have no idea what they’re getting after here, but they do not appear to be requiring that the fare details be broken out and displayed that way. They’re saying it is permissible, not that it is required. And it is already permissible today. And d.1.B requires that the total cost be disclosed so it isn’t even like someone could show the partial numbers and depend on a consumer being bad at math and adding them together wrong to hide the fares.
Of course, the airlines are all in favor of this. Because, as we all know, hiding data from your customers and trying to confuse them during the purchase process is smart business.
There are some areas where perhaps the DoT rules could stand to be toned down a bit, places where a happy medium can exist between what the customers deserve and what the airlines should be allowed to do. But this is a proposed law which doesn’t change what is actually permitted today. In fact, Spirit Airlines continues to show the fares this way and they have not been punished by the DoT. So why waste everyone’s time??
- Do airlines need protection from unscrupulous passengers??
- Is there such a thing as too much consumer protection?
- Spirit Airlines says government is hiding taxes
- What is the real impact of 49 CFR 41712 § 399.88(a) for travelers?
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