Finally, after months of attempting to figure out the motivation of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) in co-sponsoring the anti-consumer Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 together with Bill Shuster (R-Penn), Mr. DeFazio responds to an op-ed in his local newspaper.

Though Mr. DeFazio claims that the op-ed opposing his bill contained inaccuracies, Mr. DeFazio’s defense of his bill was replete with inaccuracies. Mr. DeFazio misquoted his own bill, and misstates the current Department of Transportation (DOT) rule that his bill was designed to replace.

I am dissecting Mr. DeFazio’s comments because what he claims the bill says and what it really says are two different things. The claimed purpose of the bill is far better served by leaving the DOT rule it aims to replace, in force.

These misstatements either indicate that Mr. DeFazio doesn’t really understand the significance of the legislation or that he is being disingenuous. It would be far better if he were to admit that he was hoodwinked by the airline lobbyists and that he made a mistake. That would put to rest the questions about why Mr. DeFazio supports this legislation. (Here is a link to the full text of this bill.)

In the first paragraph of his defense, Mr. DeFazio misquotes his own bill.

…this bill requires air carriers and ticket agents to disclose all taxes and government fees, as well as the total cost of air travel…(italics are mine)

The wording in the bill states, “government-imposed taxes and fees.” That is far different from saying, as Mr. DeFazio claims in his response to the op-ed, “taxes and government-imposed fees.”

From HR 4156:
“(3) Definitions.–In this subsection, the following
definitions apply:
“(A) Base airfare.–The term `base airfare’ means
the cost of passenger air transportation, excluding
government-imposed taxes and fees.

In Washington, I specifically asked the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee staff to change the wording to, “government-imposed taxes and government-imposed fees.” This would limit the damage this bill might cause. However, the committee chose to leaves a giant loophole where airlines can get away with omitting their “airline-imposed” fees such as fuel surcharges from their “airfares.”

In the second paragraph, Mr. DeFazio claims, again, that the columnist erred.

The columnist claims the legislation will allow airlines to advertise prices that do not include taxes and fees. But, in fact, this bill requires air carriers and ticket agents to disclose all taxes and government fees, as well as the total cost of air travel, to travelers before they buy their tickets.

Again, it is Mr. DeFazio who errs.

In Washington, words in legislation make a big difference. Lobbyists work hard just to place commas in certain places. In this case again, Mr. DeFazio used the term “taxes and government fees” that, as already noted, is nowhere found in the text of the legislation.

The bill clearly allows airlines to advertise only airfares without government-imposed taxes and fees. Worse, taxes and fees in Web advertisements will be on a separate page or a popup.

From HR 4156: (B) Internet advertisements and solicitations. — For purposes of paragraph (1), with respect to an advertisement or solicitation for passenger air transportation that appears on an Internet Web site, the information described in paragraphs (1)(A) and (1)(B) may be disclosed through a link or pop-up, as such terms may be defined by the Secretary, that displays the information in a manner that is easily accessible and viewable by the consumer. (My boldface.)

Finally, Mr. DeFazio’s disclaimer that travelers will know these fees before they buy their tickets may be true. However, finding out about significant taxes and fees at the end of the buying process is far different that having the full fare presented upfront and honestly in advertisements. In the first case consumers cannot effectively comparison shop. In the latter it easy to see the difference in the cost of travel.

The third paragraph is also misleading. HR 4156 will clearly allow airlines to include taxes and fees in a footnote should they choose to do so. Mr. DeFazio’s protestations that the word “footnote” is not in the legislation is foolish. The fact is, the bill allows airlines to do just that if they so choose.

Later in the the third paragraph, Mr. DeFazio claims the DOT rule “prevents airlines from listing taxes prominently.”

In fact, it is current Department of Transportation (DOT) rules that make it more difficult for consumers to identify the taxes and fees added to the price of a plane ticket because those rules prevent airlines from listing the taxes prominently and require that if displayed they be in smaller type, such as a footnote.

Again, this is a lie that has been repeated over and over by sponsors of this legislation. (And, to paraphrase Mr. DeFazio, “Nowhere in the DOT rule will you find the term footnote.”) The current rule allows the airlines to list these taxes and fees as long as they are not “more prominent” than the full price including taxes and fees.

Furthermore, all of his protestations about consumers needing to know the full cost of taxes and fees included with the purchase of airfare are hollow. Today, under the current DOT rules, taxes and fees can be clearly stated in many ways.

If the airlines want to let consumers know about the taxes and fees, they can do so under the current DOT regulation.
— They can put it right in the ad, less-prominently that the full price. (In a slightly smaller font type, in order that consumers are not confused.)
— They can publish the full taxes and fees on ticket itineraries that every passenger gets after purchasing airline tickets online.
— Airlines can put the taxes and fees right on the boarding passes that passengers get before every flight right next to the destination weather and sudoku game.

Mr. DeFazio’s bill is misguided. He received bad advice and information from airline lobbyists he trusted and his office made no attempt to allow consumer groups to comment on the mark-up of the legislation in committee, or on the House floor. In the end, this bill was passed ignominiously before a near-empty House of Representatives, on a fly-in day, under suspension of rules together with other noncontroversial bills like the naming post offices.

Despite almost universal negative press from major media across the country and letters from every major consumer group in Washington, this bill was rammed through the House without a word of dissent or any opportunity for debate.

This bill was not debated, nor was it the subject of any hearings in committee or on the floor of the House. All correspondence and published protests from consumers, travel agents, corporate travel managers, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and from DOT was ignored and not submitted for the record to Congress by the bill sponsors.

Mr. DeFazio’s intent may be honorable, but the bill he sponsored and voted for, surely is not. The way this Orwellian-named, anti-consumer Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 was passed by the House of Representatives is absolutely shameful.