It’s been a good month for air travel transparency. Just before Labor Day, the Department of Transportation launched its brand new Aviation Consumer Protection dashboard, which shows side-by-side comparisons of what each airline offers in the event of a controllable delay or cancellation.
This afternoon at a meeting of the White House Competition Council, President Joe Biden will propose a new rule that would take on loathed “hidden” fees by requiring airlines and travel websites to be more transparent on the front end of the booking process about additional potential costs for baggage, flight changes, cancellations and seat selection that impact families traveling with children.
“Under the proposed rule, airlines and travel search websites would have to disclose upfront—the first time an airfare is displayed—any fees charged to sit with your child, for changing or cancelling your flight, and for checked or carry-on baggage,” according to a White House statement.
“Airline passengers deserve to know the full, true cost of their flights before they buy a ticket,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This new proposed rule would require airlines to be transparent with customers about the fees they charge, which will help travelers make informed decisions and save money.”
The initiative is part of Biden’s “competition agenda” spelled out in an Executive Order in July 2021. “The heart of American capitalism is a simple idea: open and fair competition,” the President said at the time, adding that “capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation.”
Additional charges and fees are enormous moneyspinners for the airlines.
Last year, airlines made nearly $700 million on cancellation and change fees, but that pales in comparison to the haul for baggage fees. In 2021, U.S. airlines collected more than $5.2 billion in baggage fees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
“Airline passengers deserve to know the full, true cost of their flights before they buy a ticket.”
While the proposed rule would not impede airlines from charging additional fees, the Biden administration says increased transparency will allow consumers to get a fairer picture of the total cost of a flight before purchasing a ticket.
The proposal applies to U.S. air carriers, foreign air carriers, and third-party ticket agents, which would be required to show additional fees as passenger-specific or itinerary-specific based on the consumer’s choice. “Because seat availability and fees can fluctuate frequently, the Department is also proposing to require carriers and ticket agents to enable consumers traveling with a young child to purchase the seats with the fare at all points of sale,” according to the statement.
Air travel complaints have been on the rise, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s most recent Air Travel Consumer Reports (ATCR) on airline operational data, which are compiled each month for on-time performance, consumer complaints received and mishandled baggage and other items. There was a 34.9% increase in complaints from May to June of this year, followed by another 16.5% increase from June to July. Complaints were nearly 270% above pre-pandemic levels.