by Michael J. Shapiro | April 09, 2014
The Business Travel Coalition is calling for hearings and discussion on the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 (H.R. 4156), a bill that was scheduled for markup this morning. The bill, crafted by the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, would effectively reverse a 2012 Department of Transportation advertising rule and undermine some customer protection, according to the BTC. Under the new bill, airlines could revert to a print advertising practice that would allow lower base ticket prices to be highlighted while allowing total ticket prices to be disclosed more obliquely. The bill also would allow airlines to display lower ticket prices on initial screens online, and disclose the total ticket price, including all taxes and fees, on later screens or via links or pop-ups. "This represents an open invitation for deceptive marketing practices," noted BTC chairman Kevin Mitchell. The BTC recommends that the House consider the following amendments to the bill:

• A requirement that the base airfare, government taxes and fees and the total airfare be prominently displayed on an initial website screen or in a print advertisement, in addition to any surcharges and fees which a consumer will be expected to pay;

• An excise tax on baggage fees to fund a DOT hotline for consumer complaints to respond to growing concerns about customer experiences;

• A requirement that airline ancillary services  and associated fees be made available to consumers for comparison shopping and purchase at all points-of-sale where airlines choose to sell their base airfares;

• A repeal of a narrow section of the federal preemption clause of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 that addresses unfair and deceptive airline marketing practices to provide consumers with legal redress under state consumer protection laws;

• An increase in the Passenger Facility Charge cap to $9 per flight segment with increased revenue earmarked for a DOT-administered passenger-compensation fund for industry practices adverse to consumer interests, such as for denied boarding.

"Consumer-focused members of [the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee] should insist on full debate on H.R. 4156 and an exploration of newer concepts of consumer protections in air transport being adopted around the world as fewer airlines seek to collectively decide on market rules," added Mitchell.