When Congressmen swallow bald-faced airline lies, consumers lose

© Charles Leocha

Today, ignominiously, the entire House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the Orwellian-named Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 under suspension of rules and with no consumer input or any debate on its merits. Worse, the vote is scheduled on “fly-in day,” when representatives are returning from weekend meetings with constituents. The bill is step one in gutting the latest DOT consumer protections. It is an absolutely shameful exercise of congressional responsibility. The fix is in. And, consumers are getting the brown end of the stick.

Airline consumers are getting ready to take a blow from their own supposed representatives in Washington, DC (representing in this case airlines and not the public). The airlines have orchestrated the first part of a legislative plan to revoke the Department of Transportation (DOT) Full Airfare rule that requires airlines to advertise the price for which consumers can actually purchase tickets.

That kind of truth in advertising seems reasonable to most people. It seems reasonable to the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post and scores of newspapers across the country. Getting an accurate price in airline advertisements sits well with consumers as well — more than 127,000-plus citizens registered their concern with deceptive airline advertisements in a change.org petition circulated during the past few months.

It seems that airlines can’t stand to tell the truth. Something in their corporate DNA requires airlines to provide misleading and deceptive prices. Why tell a consumer that their flight will cost $50, the price they will pay, when the fare advertisement could claim that the airfare is only $19? According to the airlines, they are only standing up for the consumers by telling them how many taxes are baked into the final airline ticket price.

However, that is not their goal. Airlines could care less whether their customers know how many taxes they are paying. Airlines thrive on creating confusion with airline tickets through their games of baggage fees for first checked bag, second checked bag and carry-on bags. They love “gotcha” fees like cancellation fees and change fees. Airlines have secret fare rules that are hard to find, but followed precisely by airlines because these rules allow airlines to extract more money from unaware passengers.

If airlines were concerned with passengers knowing the taxes they are paying on airline tickets, they could print out those taxes on ticket itineraries and boarding passes instead (or in addition to) Sudoku games and local weather reports. They can place the taxes and fees in advertisements, which is clearly permitted by the current DOT rules.

Clearly, airlines are not publicizing taxes. They are not concerned with consumers knowing the taxes. Airlines are only interested in misleading passengers with unrealistic prices to suck them into the buying process. An airline executive mantra must be, “The uneducated customer is our best customer.” Their follow up, “When we can confuse customers with scores of fees and arcane rules, by all means do so.”

Fortunately, before a bill becomes law, it must be passed by both houses of Congress. In the Senate, there is no companion bill at the moment. But, the airlines, airline unions and their lobbyists are swarming through the Senate office buildings. To date, no Senator has bitten at the airline bait. Travelers United advocates, other consumer groups and associations representing travel agents and corporate travel planners have visited the staff of every member of the Commerce Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee and carefully explained the pernicious nature of this bill.

Plus, specialists from the government have explained how this bill is a blueprint for drip pricing and bait-and-switch advertising. It seems that when presented with the facts instead of airline lies, Senators have come down firmly on the side of consumers.

In the House, it has been another story. Normally, consumer-friendly representatives have swallowed the airlines’ bald-faced lies — hook, line and sinker — about a fabricated DOT mandate that they hide taxes and fees from travelers.

Should airlines be allowed to advertise deceptive prices?

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