Is the Proposed 'No Hidden Fees' Airfare Bill Truly Transparent?

If you’re not familiar with the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, it’s time you got acquainted. Officially known as H.R 4156, this proposed legislation would allow airlines to display or advertise base airfare as long as carriers also disclose taxes and fees “clearly and separately” and ultimately provide consumers with a total ticket price.

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Read Podcast Transcript here.

Back to the ‘Bad’ Old Days?

In other words, let’s go back to the days of the asterisk when a fare was advertised for $49* followed by the explanation, “not including all taxes and fees.” Those extra charges would be revealed one by one later – somewhere on the way to checkout land.

The Department of Transportation’s 2012 Passenger Protections rule did away with asterisk pricing; airlines were forced to display and advertise only all-inclusive fares which meant, for example, that Spirit had to give up its beloved “$9 fares” which were considerably higher once taxes and fees were added.

Airline Arguments for New Bill

Airlines argue they’re not responsible for these taxes and fees which are imposed by the government and are mandatory (compared with optional charges like baggage fees). So why should airlines get the blame for high prices instead of the government?

Airlines also argue that hotels and rental cars don’t have to follow “all-inclusive” displays and they’re absolutely right. Let’s change that, too. It’s way past time.

Taxes and Fees Do Add Up

For those unclear on what government-imposed taxes and fees add up to, here’s an example based on a connecting flight between San Francisco and Chicago:

  • Base airfare: $100 each-way
  • U.S. Sept. 11 Security Fee: $5 each-way
  • U.S. Passenger Facility Charge: $9.00 each way
  • U.S. Flight Segment Tax: $8.00 each-way
  • U.S. Transportation Tax: $7.50 each-way

In other words, the base airfare is $200 round-trip but you will actually pay nearly $260.

Avoiding Sticker Shock

International flights can be much worse – running into the hundreds of dollars – as they include other country’s charges plus additional U.S. fees for immigration and agriculture.┬áHere’s the question: Do you want to know from the start that your Los Angeles to London ticket will cost $1,211 round-trip, or do you prefer to see “$1,000*”? I’m going to guess that most would rather avoid┬áthe possibility of end-of-transaction sticker shock.

Yet Another ‘Transparency’ Bill

The latest entry in the battle of the airfare bills is the newly introduced “Real Transparency in Airfares Act” would continue the DOT protections but differs in one-respect: It calls for higher fines for those who flout the rules.

Rick Seaney has more in his latest column for ABCNews.com – and see all his ABC columns here.

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Published: May 12, 2014