When a "Big Lie" gets legs in Congress

Photo by Charles Leocha

Consumers and the free market are facing a full frontal attack from the airlines. Their minions have swarmed through the House of Representatives casting an untruth that members both Republican and Democrat are swallowing hook, line and sinker.

The airline’s big lie is that the Department of Transportation (DOT) rules require them to hide taxes and fees through imposition of the full-fare advertising rule. Both Republican and Democrat Representatives have signed up to sponsor HR 4156, a bill that rolls back this consumer-friendly full fare advertising rule.

This Airfare Transparency Act of 2014 is based on a lie. A Big Lie.

“If you tell a lie that’s big enough, and you tell it often enough, people will believe you are telling the truth, even when what you are saying is total crap.”
Richard Belzer, UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Believe

One does not have to be a legal wizard to see that the airlines’ claims about DOT requiring them to hide taxes and fees is a lie.

• Go to any airline website and it is easy to find taxes and fees through pop-ups and links.
• Many airlines make sure that their passengers know about taxes and fees at the time of purchase.
• Read the regulation in question. It explicitly states that the airlines can “remain free to provide an itemized breakdown (displaying to the customer the amount of the base fare, taxes, and other charges), but they may not display such price components “prominently” or “in the same or larger size as the total price.”

Some airlines were concerned that passengers would not know how much of their total price consists of government imposed taxes and fees. We want to assure these carriers that nothing in this rule prohibits them from making this information available to consumers. This final rule allows carriers to advise the public in their fare solicitations about government taxes and fees, or other mandatory carrier or ticket agent imposed charges applicable to their airfares. Sellers of air transportation may have pop-ups or links adjacent to an advertised price to take the consumer to a listing of such charges, or they may display these charges on the same page in fine print if they prefer. Such charges must accurately reflect the actual costs to the carrier of the service or matter covered, be displayed on a per passenger basis, and be displayed in a manner that otherwise does not deceive consumers. Consequently, the rule requires that any such listing not be displayed prominently and be presented in significantly smaller type than the listing of the total price to ensure that consumers are not confused about the total price they must pay. Also, we are prohibiting the presentation of any “total” fares in advertising that exclude taxes, fees or other charges since the major impact of such presentations is to confuse and deceive consumers.
From the Federal Register,/Vol. 76, No. 79/Monday, April 25, 2011/Rules and Regulations Page 23143

• Airlines are allowed to highlight taxes and fees with no restrictions on their websites, on printed ticket itineraries and on boarding passes.

Even with explicit permission from DOT, airlines simply choose not to highlight these taxes and fees. However, they resort to a baseless lie. And, they keep repeating it.

Now, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are repeating airline propaganda and the Big Lie is getting legs.

In responses to constituent letters, congressmen are returning correspondence that support the airline lie. It appears that these congressmen have not even taken the time to read the regulations about which they proceed to pontificate.

From Sen. Tim Kane, Virginia, May 28, 2014, in response to a letter I sent to his office, stated:

The Transparent Airfares Act, introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Bill Shuster, would permit airlines to advertise pre-tax ticket prices, with taxes and fees in separate categories. A Department of Transportation rule requires airlines to disclose the full price of tickets – including all fees and taxes – in their advertising. Some argue consumers should know how much of their flight cost is attributable to taxes and fees, rather than to the flight itself. Others argue that separating out costs in this manner gives consumers an inaccurate idea of how much they are paying, and that one bottom-line price is more useful.

This is misinformation and a repetition of the airline lie. The current regulation allows airlines to disclose taxes and fees anywhere they decide. Period. There is no need for this law other than to confuse consumers.

A Message From Congressman Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin 5th District, May 23, 2014:

I also oppose requiring airlines to hide government taxes in the ticket price. Americans have a right to know how much they are being taxed when they purchase an airline ticket.

Again, here is the Big Lie — “requiring airlines to hide government taxes in the ticket price.” There is simply no such requirement, rule or regulation.

A letter to a constituent from Congressman Michael H. Michaud, Maine 2nd Congressional District, May 9, 2014:

Currently, a rule implemented by the Department of Transportation in 2012 prohibits airlines and travel agents from providing full disclosure of government imposed taxes and fees in advertised prices.

Again, this congressman parrots the airline lie, the same airline propaganda.

As an advocate, I have never previously experienced such a concerted and prolonged period of untruths. I cannot fathom that when members of Congress and their staff can in black and white, in the Federal Register, see clearly that they are being misled by the airline propaganda, they remain steadfast in perpetuating a lie.

The continued misrepresentation of DOT rules by airline lobbyists is disgraceful. The repetition of these falsehoods by our congressmen is shameful or based on gross ignorance. In any case, the American public is not being served with integrity.

  • Trudy Richardson

    As a travel agent for 35 years I can only say we warned you what would happen and it happened and now you whine. I told my clients when the airlines were deregulated that they would run wild and they have. We said no deregulation, we also said no frequent flyer points to the airlines because it would drive us all crazy and would result in higher prices; no one listened. We said that if the airlines cut commissions to agents who were doing the airlines jobs in a way to protect the client; no one listened because the airlines said (lying as usual) this would result in lower rates..what a joke. When they stopped paying agents all together we started to have to charge fees. Thanks to the lies the public is now paying higher air rates as well as fees for everything..LOL here are your prices and the continuing lies today. The airlines like all the big corporations have become utterly out of control and there is no care about the public at all.

    Sorry to say this but we told you so. You have gotten the airline reward for fools of the century. It is a smart thing to listen to people with years of experience; it is never smart to believe the lies of big corporations and their whores, your representatives. The government at that time led people into this and now, still in the pocket of the airlines, they are allowing them to make people pay more and be less comfortable. I laugh every time this issue comes up and care not whether people are pleased because WE TOLD YOU WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN AND YOU CHOSE NOT TO LISTEN!

    The only way to control the airlines now is to have a good national high speed rail system so we can at least access our own country. They will still “get you” if you have to fly internationally. Having traveled by rail in many countries I know that it can be done right and people will use it to avoid the airlines and their high prices and lack of care about the people who fly with them. You can just sit and let this happen or you can talk to the money whores in your state and demanc change; I suggest regulation.

    Do you remember that before all of this there were only about 5 or 6 fares in each market. 28 days out, 21 days out, 14 days out, 7 days out and full fare. With the full fare you could choose any day or time and travel anywhere with a ticket that was changeable and in some cases refundable the same with first class (we did not care that much about first class because in those days we have leg room, snacks or meals, pillows and blankets, and even flight attendants that we liked because they gave us good service. To get the lower fares that were aimed at leisure travelers we had to stay over a Saturday Night and the tickets were changeable with a fee but non refundable.

    Now we have literally thousands of fares with millions of rules and those rules can no longer be explained by your travel agent who researched and learned the rules to help your clients; no agent to explain that if you flew on Wednesday instead of Thursday you could get a lower fare or stay over and get a lower rate. We got fed up with them and now most agencies leave you to the airlines or the online disasters brought about by uneducated (about airlines and fares) passengers trying to work with the madness created by the airlines for the airlines and meant to confuse you and keep you from getting the lowest fare. No more nice travel agents to help walk you through what the airlines won’t tell you.

    Did you realize that they also have a contract to get you to your destination with reasonable speed and if they can’t they are required to book you forward with any airline who will get you there in a reasonable time and there will be no fee? Did you know you have rights? Of course you don’t. Getting rid of agents to help travelers was the first part of their goal and the are now at their goal of ripping the guts out of the public while treating them as poorly as poorly as they think they can.


  • Robert B

    I had a similar reply from my congressman when I wrote to him about this legislation. He parroted the airline gospel, and in the same sentence, said that he supported full disclosure to airline travelers. What a crock!