xmasLast week, several airlines added a $10 “miscellaneous” charge for flights on on Nov. 29, Jan. 2 and 3. — those are the peak travel days after Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The news sent the travel blogosphere into something of a frenzy. My colleague Janice Hough this morning predicted the “holiday surcharge” was only the beginning of a new fee orgy.

Rather than devote an entire post to criticizing the airline industry for yet another poorly-conceived idea, I thought it would be a good idea to ask the Transportation Department, which regulates a significant part of the airline industry, what it makes of the new fees.

Here’s the exchange between department spokesman Bill Mosley and me:

What is your department’s understanding of these new fees?

The Department does not have the authority to regulate the fares airlines charge, but does ensure that consumers are not misled in how fares are advertised.

In 2001, your department said airlines and travel agencies were required to quote a ticket price that includes fees such as fuel surcharges. Does that ruling apply to these new fees in any way?

Yes. According to media reports, these charges are assessed by the airlines themselves for peak period travel and, accordingly, they must be included in the advertised airfare.

Was the Transportation Department consulted by any of these airlines, notably American Airlines, before these fees were added last week?

Airlines are not required to consult the Department about fares or fees.

What are you saying to air travelers who are concerned about this new fee?

Consumers should shop around and determine which carrier has a fare that best suits their individual needs. Consumers can learn more about their rights at airconsumer.dot.gov

In other words, these new fees were added to a part of the fare that is unregulated by the government. The only thing the DOT can do is regulate how the fare is advertised and displayed, to prevent travelers from being deceived. Other than that, the surcharges are completely legal.

I think there are many readers who will see this as a less-than-upfront fare increase. Does it cost more to operate a flight just after a major holiday? Probably not, but these carriers are going to help themselves to more of your money, anyway.

The honest thing to do would be to raise fares — not add a “holiday surcharge.” But what do I know?

(Photo: dnkbdotcom/Flickr Creative Commons)