Concealing baggage fees after travelers purchase tickets


by Robert S. Donovan
The airline world has been buzzing about ancillary fees for about half a decade, since American Airlines decided to start charging passengers for their first checked bag. The airlines call it unbundling of airfares. Consumers call it names that can’t be published in this article.

Airlines still refuse to disclose ancillary fees so that they can be easily compared across airlines via travel agency displays prior to purchase; however, inexplicably, airlines refuse to present passengers clear baggage charges on their itineraries after tickets have been purchased.

After every major airline and most of the others followed American charging baggage fees and then began piling on more and more fees for everything from speaking with a human to pillows and blankets or getting extra legroom to reserving seats, consumers have become reluctantly resigned to a world of airline fees.

What consumers are not accepting is the airline practice of only advertising their bare-bones airfares that are being advertised without any of the ancillary fees in order to allow carriers to make their prices look deceptively as low as Southwest’s low airfares that include two bags and open seating.

This has been an ongoing battle in which airlines have not relented. Consumers find themselves without the ability to compare prices across airlines without constructing an airline-by-airline spreadsheet divined from complex airline “disclosures.” I’ll admit that the airlines inform passengers of these ancillary fees; however, figuring them out after taking into account frequent flier exemptions, credit card benefits and arcane reservation rules that dictate whether family and companions flying with these privileged travelers can share in various fee exemptions takes extraordinary effort.

When airline representatives have spoken before the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections (ACACP) they all claim that they want to sell all their services through their entire distribution system. Airlines say the right words, but their actions are misleading and deceptive.

When challenged to demonstrate their websites’ transparency and the ease with which passengers can compare prices including ancillary fees between New York and Los Angeles, airline representatives admitted that it could not be easily done.

OK. Let’s say that we agree with the airlines that expecting to be able to compare the full cost of travel, including baggage fees and seat-reservation fees, across airlines won’t happen; what about simply getting the airline to present passengers with the cost of checking baggage after they have made their airline purchase?

If any consumer purchases a ticket at the ticket counter at an airport, the gate agent can instantly tell the passenger how much checking baggage will cost. Why won’t airlines tell online consumers that information and include it on the flight confirmation itinerary?

What possible reason could the airlines have to continue to hide the baggage fees behind web-linked fee rules and exemptions after tickets have been purchased? The airlines simply intone, “Passengers can figure fees out.”

Passengers ask, “Why can’t the airlines figure it out and tell us?”

Being misleading and deceptive in order to get the sale has been the province of unscrupulous companies and salesmen for centuries. The warning, “buyer beware,” goes back millennia. However, continuing with that duplicity after the sale is beyond the pale.

It seems that airlines should show their cards after passengers have purchased tickets rather than continuing to refuse to clearly and unambiguously declare what baggage fees will be for upcoming flights.

Photo: By Robert S. Donovan from Flickr Creative Commons