Trade groups praise DOT recommendation on ancillary fees

By Kate Rice

Industry groups with conflicting views on the way distribution systems treat airline ancillary services each put their own spin on recommendations made last week by the Transportation Department’s (DOT) Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection.

The committee said that the DOT should ensure transparency in air carrier pricing but offered no specifics on how to do that and made no mention of GDSs.
 

 Industry groups with conflicting views on the way distribution systems treat airline ancillary services each put their own spin on recommendations made last week by the Transportation Department’s (DOT) Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection. The committee said that the DOT should ensure transparency in air carrier pricing but offered no specifics on how to do that and made no mention of GDSs.
 

At the request of ASTA and others, the DOT is considering requiring airlines that participate in the GDSs to include ancillary services and the fees for those services in the content they provide the GDSs. They do not do so now.

Bruce BishinsBruce Bishins, managing director of ARTA, who had lobbied against the idea of a DOT mandate, said he felt “vindicated” by the committee’s recommendation.

But while the committee’s report would seem to be a setback for ASTA, Paul Ruden, the Society’s senior vice president for industry and legal affairs, said he did not expect the committee to recommend that the DOT mandate the inclusion of ancillary services.

“I was pretty happy that they went as far as they did, considering the nature of the composition of the task force,” Ruden said.

Task force members included consumer advocates and representatives of airline and airport trade groups. Lisa Madigan, the attorney general for Illinois, served as committee chair.

Ruden said that he is looking forward to hearing what the DOT will say in its rulemaking.

“We are still hoping that the DOT will at least propose a rule that requires the airlines to display ancillaries in a transactable format in the GDSs if they sell airfares through the GDSs. If they don’t sell through the GDSs, then obviously, they shouldn’t be forced to sell ancillaries that way, either.”

Nina Meyer, ASTA’s president and CEO, also praised the decision, but with some caveats.

“While we wish they had gone farther, considering the makeup of the committee, its calls for transparency in air carrier pricing and its expectation that consumers should expect to know the cost of the entire trip before purchasing a ticket represent an exceptional outcome,” she said.

Nina MeyerThe Travel Technology Association, representing online travel companies and GDSs, also praised the committee’s recommendation but added that “more must be done to eliminate the problem of hidden or misleading ancillary fees.”

It said the DOT “should require airlines to make their essential ancillary fees available for consumers to both see and purchase at the same time and in the same manner they make their airfares available, no matter where the consumer chooses to buy his or her ticket.”

Similarly, the Open Allies for Airfare Transparency, representing numerous individual agencies, ASTA and various corporate departments and technology companies, applauded the committee report but said “this does not go nearly far enough,” adding that it is “necessary that the DOT step in to fix this market failure.”

In a statement, Sabre said it applauded the advisory committee’s “strong support for greater transparency in air travel pricing.”

“Sabre has long advocated for consumer protections that ensure travelers ‘know the cost of the entire trip before purchasing a ticket,’ as the committee’s report recommends, the GDS said in a statement.

But while the committee refrained from recommending that the DOT force airlines to include ancillaries in the GDS, it did conclude that the DOT should impose a new notification requirement on agents about the airlines they sell or do not sell.

The committee said the DOT “should require all ticket agents, including online ticket agents, to disclose the fact that they do not offer for sale all airlines’ tickets, if that is the case, and that additional airlines may serve the route being searched.”

According to the committee, “In some instances, it may appear that a route is not served at all because the airline or airlines serving that route have chosen not to participate in a particular distribution system; this can be confusing for consumers.”

ASTA did not directly support or oppose the proposal, saying, “The disclosure issue is vastly more complicated than appears on the surface, and there are many potential unintended consequences that need to be considered before DOT adopts such a rule.”

Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.

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