The U.S. Department of Transportation wants anyone shopping for plane tickets to get a complete picture of the total cost of a flight right from the start, and is therefore considering a proposal to require extras like specific baggage fees be shown “at all points of a sale.”
This raises some problems, as FareCompare CEO and analyst Rick Seaney has noticed.
LISTEN: Disclosing bag fees upfront sounds good, right? But listen to this.
Specific Fees for Disclosure
Currently, ticket sellers are required to provide a link to baggage charges on the checkout pages, but the DOT proposal calls for upfront, precise dollar amount fee disclosure for the following:
- First checked-bag,
- Second checked-bag
- One carry-on item
- Advance seat selection
Note: Not every airline charges for all these items but many do.
Transparency Good. Complexity – Not So Good
“I’m all for greater transparency,” said Seaney, “but the issue is where in the online shopping experience is the disclosure required other than the checkout page and possibly the boarding pass? This could be a problem because many of us shop on smartphones and those screens are small.”
Fee pricing and fee structures can be incredibly complex. Prices can vary depending on where and when you pay.
For instance, Spirit’s carry-on bag fee ranges from $26 (for members of the $9 Fare Club who purchase online) to $100 if purchased at the airport gate. Other airlines have different prices for a la carte vs. bundled fees.
“You could get carpal tunnel syndrome just from thumbing down the 1,000 flight options of a search and the additional four inches of copy on optional fees,” said Seaney, adding that unlike ticket taxes and government fees, baggage fees are optional.
Another problem: How is the DOT going to govern the baggage policies of non-U.S. airlines and ticket sellers? Would they be required to file fee price information in a common clearinghouse, and how would that work?
Public Comment Now Underway
The public is invited to comment on this proposal for the next 90 days and can do so at this link. After that, decision time.
“This is a well-intentioned proposal,” said Seaney, “and I absolutely like full disclosure of ticket prices from the start. But I don’t mind waiting for optional fee information until the details of a quote summary, definitely before you ding your credit card.” He added that, “As in all legislation, the devil is in the details and at first glance the details on this proposal are way too open-ended which often means it will ultimately be up to the courts sort it all out.”