In the News: Dallas Morning News: Federal transportation officials eyeing more regulation of airline fees

The Dallas Morning News has an excellent article on consumers’ frustration with airline ancillary fees, the inability to understand the full all-in (fares+fees+taxes) cost of travel, and how the Department of Transportation is looking at a new rule to address the current market breakdown:

The Transportation Department is considering whether to force airlines to disclose all ancillary fees through every potential sales channel — and not just through airline websites. Consumer groups and travel agencies say the rule is needed to allow travelers to truly compare fares.

Even as airlines began several years ago to “unbundle” services such as checked baggage, most carriers don’t disclose other potential fees through third-party travel websites and travel agencies. The lack of transparency can make fares look artificially low, although carriers say unbundling saves money for some customers.

“The consumer here is being harmed, and the government has a role to step in,” Bill McGee, a contributing editor to Consumer Reports, said at an event Thursday in Washington. “There is a growing mistrust among consumers for the whole process. That is going to hurt the airline industry and the whole economy.” . . .

The Transportation Department will have the final say about that. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has already approved two pro-consumer rules, which put a three-hour limit on tarmac delays and require bag fees to be disclosed with fare quotes, among other things.

Some insiders say regulation extending that transparency to seats and boarding is the next step, because consumers expect those things to be part of the ticket. The rule also could require that consumers be able to pay for those fees when they buy a ticket, instead of at the airport.

“The pushback from consumers on fees and fee transparency is far and away the No. 1 complaint among passengers,” McGee said. “It’s clear that if the industry won’t deal with this, the DOT will.”

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