WASHINGTON – The Transportation Department has abandoned two proposals from the Obama administration that aimed to provide air travelers with more information about fees on bags and other services before they buy tickets.
The withdrawal of one regulatory proposal from Jan. 9 and another from July 2011 is part of the Trump administration’s effort to reduce regulations and their costs, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement Tuesday that was posted on the department's web site Thursday.
“The department is committed to protecting consumers from hidden fees and to ensuring transparency,” Chao said. “However, we do not believe that departmental action is necessary to meet this objective at this time.”
Consumers had welcomed the proposals when they were announced. Charles Leocha, founder of Travelers United, called the department's actions a “dereliction of duty” and “an abdication of their legal responsibility.”
“This withdrawn rulemaking was created to allow airline consumers to determine the full cost of travel, including airfare as well as ancillary fees together with their exceptions and exemptions,” Leocha said. “Without clear, public data available to travel agents and on the Internet, travelers find it impossible to effectively comparison shop.”
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The proposed rules stemmed from the difficulties that travelers face in comparing piecemeal fares because individual airlines are increasingly offering different services for different fees that cover everything from bags to seat assignments and legroom.
One airline might include the cost of checked bags in their fares, while others might charge for checked and carry-on bags. While airlines provide fees on their own sites, the fees aren’t always obvious on internet booking sites that compare prices.
The proposal from July 7, 2011, proposed to collect detailed information about airline fees on 19 services including priority check-in, baggage, in-flight entertainment, food and seat assignments.
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The department now reports only information about bag fees, which totaled nearly $4.2 billion last year, and fees to change or cancel flights, which totaled nearly $2.9 billion last year.
The Jan. 9 proposal focused on a portion of the 2011 proposal and would have required airlines and ticket agents to disclose – the first time a fare is shown – all fees for the first and second checked bags, and for carry-on bags adjacent to the fare.
The department extended the public comment period about bag fees from March 2 to March 20 so the Trump administration could review the proposal. Now it is among several from the Obama administration that have been spiked or postponed.
Southwest Airlines, airports and consumer groups said the disclosures would make pricing more transparent. Southwest, which doesn't charge for first or second checked bags, urged the department to cut the categories for reporting in half.
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"No more bait and switch," said Harlan Aliment of San Diego said in supporting the January bag-fee proposal. "Show the entire ticket purchase price with all requirements built in."
But most airlines said the costs providing the information would be burdensome and the information wouldn’t increase the transparency of pricing. Airlines also worried that the disclosures could require reporting of propriety information.
The department found that the information wouldn't be helpful to consumers because it would have been reported in aggregate, like total bag and change fees.
“Although we believe there would be benefits of collecting and publishing the proposed aviation data, the department also takes seriously industry concerns about the potential burden of this rule,” Chao said of the 2011 proposal.
But consumer groups were disappointed with the decisions.
“The DOT has stuffed consumers' stockings with coal while giving the airline industry some pricey gifts, paid for by the people it is supposed to be protecting," said Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director of the Air Travel Fairness Coalition. “We believe the DOT needs to show more interest in protecting consumers, and less concern for increasing airline profits.”
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