About that time I got in a twitter fight with Airlines for America over taxes


It was an accident. I mean, mostly it was. I think. Or maybe not really. I suppose that had I known who I was engaging with I probably wouldn’t have tried so hard to actually have a real debate/discussion/conversation. But there it was.

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A post by @TodayInTheSky from USA Today about the “Transparency in Airfares” act recent passed by the House of Representatives called the name a “misnomer” and, while I agree, I actually think it is worse than that. I think it is the US Airlines’ lobbying organization buying influence in Congress at the expense of the consumer and generally lying about things. So I said so.

I’m not particularly shy about speaking my mind and so I did, explaining to a couple people who replied my position on the issue, specifically the part where airlines are not prohibited from sharing the fare/taxes breakdown if they want to, so long as they also show the full number on the first results page. And, for the vast majority of consumers, it is that “total” number which they care about. One of the responses was from Surya Gunasekara and it included the suggestion that the all-in pricing was characteristic of a “nanny state” among other things.

https://twitter.com/SuryaGablin/status/498815259374018560

The conversation went back and forth a few times from there over the next couple hours. Sure, not much in the way of progress was made, but I was enjoying myself well enough. And then I saw a reply from someone else who had been watching the conversation:

Wait…what!??! Yup, turns out that Surya is the Managing Director, Taxes for Airlines for America, the lobbying organization the airlines have formed to represent their interests in Washington. No wonder there was no real discussion but plenty of rhetoric and blind repetition of the standard talking points.

My favorite part was the claim suggesting that the airlines be allowed to advertise a “total” fare which exclude taxes. You know, because the “total” shouldn’t always show the full cost; it is good to only show partial data and call it a “total.” Consumers love that.

The airlines have only themselves to blame for the situation they are in now today. They spent years hiding fees (their own, not those from governments), burying details in the fine print and otherwise misleading customers of the total price of their products. And so now the government has taken a stance to protect consumer interests. Is it more aggressive than other industries? Absolutely. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Much of the world uses all-in pricing across industries and they’re all doing just fine. And the airlines will, too. But maybe they should focus more on not misleading customers on pricing rather than trying to blame the government for the fact that they’ve been massively profitable since the rule change occurred. Surely they cannot believe it is ruining thee business based on the recent results they’ve reported.

Read the full exchange here if you’re interested.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

13 Comments

  1. Posts like this shows me Surya does not know what he is talking about when differentiating between actual taxes and airline imposed surcharges:

    https://twitter.com/SuryaGablin/status/472429481106604032/photo/1

    He claims taxes account for 33% of the said airfare in the picture, however, there is one flaw in his math. He included the $269.20 International Surcharge [aka airline imposed surcharge] when calculating the % of the airfare going to the government. The correct calculation should be ~10%.

    If the airline can fool a Managing Director – Taxes in the Airlines for America organization, or someone who we can safely say a subject matter expert, then they can pretty much fool anyone.

    His credibility, IMO, is shot.

  2. Although I do like having the full price displayed from the “get-go”, I don’t think it is the federal government’s business to require that it be shown. As long as the airline in question shows the full (exact) price before the credit card is charged, the government should have no say in the matter.

    I would argue that the airlines suffer a lot of meddling by Congress that other industries do not, due in part to the fact that the members of congress use the airlines. We have the Passenger’s Bill of Rights for example.

    It amazes me that consumers and Congress are not “up in arms” about Resort Fees, Facilities Fees, Airport Fees, etc. that the hotels and automobile rental agencies use to make their prices appear lower (at least initially) than they really are. It is even more surprising that no one seems to worked up about the fact that hotels don’t even charge the obligatory resort fee at the time of purchase!

    1. The problem with just showing the right number just before the customer is charged is that the airlines have played far too many games with taxes and fees in the past whereby the base fare used in comparison engines like OTAs would vary wildly from what the actual price was. It makes the process of comparing the fares across carriers somewhere between tedious and impossible. This creates a fair market where the airlines can compete and the passengers aren’t being misled.

      As for the other industries, they aren’t federally regulated. Airlines are. I wish they’d be subject to similar rules but I’m not holding my breath that it happens any time soon.

  3. Seth. You’re right on the money with this one. Airlines are out to separate consumers with as much money as possible. Airlines hate taxes because they want that money as they understand that demand for their product is not entirely inelastic. They don’t want the government to treat the consumer “like an ATM” because THEY want this role. AFA do this devil’s bidding. The only thing transparent about this proposed law is that it is a sham and bad for consumers .

  4. nice work Seth! Transparency in prices is always a good thing. It’s one thing for airlines to lobby for different advertised pricing structures (that oddly seem to be more focused in the seller, not the purchaser, by omitting taxes, gvt. fees, whatever) but to cloak it under the guise of “transparency” is taking it too far.

  5. Disappointed in A4A. I would have hoped for a more reasonable discussion on the topic, particularly from someone with a vested interest.

    Bravo, Seth. Maybe one day you’ll get a politician’s ear and help kill this bill.

  6. Good job standing up for consumers!

    I have lived in the US, the UK and Hong Kong – the US and UK forces the full price to be shown for airfare (the UK goes even further and forces hotels to do the same).

    When I was in Hong Kong – they are allowed to advertise just the base fare and you never really know what you are paying – even on their versions of online travel sites. It was terribly inefficient – everybody knows the prices aren’t real anyways – and you just end up having to click through every option to see the full price since every airlines has different combinations of fees and taxes.

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