Mark Pestronk
Mark Pestronk

Q: The DOT has suddenly become a consumer-protection advocate, having already proposed that travel agencies be responsible for paying refunds on flights canceled by the airlines. Now, the DOT is proposing that we make itinerary-specific and client-specific disclosures of ancillary fees at the time that we quote an airfare. Do you think that the fee-disclosure proposal will be adopted, and if so, can you please list all the disclosures that travel advisors will be expected to make if the new proposal goes into effect? One more question: Could the federal government require similar disclosures for the sale of hotels, car rentals and cruises, where there are even more fees?

A: I predict that the new fee-disclosure proposal will be adopted by the middle of next year, but one or more discount carriers will tie it up in court for another year. If the courts uphold the rule, there will be a six-month transition period for carriers and GDSs to program their systems, so you can realistically expect the rule to go into effect in about two years from now.

Once the fee-disclosure rule goes into effect, travel advisors will need to provide all the following information simultaneously with the first fare quote, in writing and orally:

  • The full price including all taxes and mandatory fees, under a rule in effect for a decade.
  • For codeshares, the name of the marketing carrier, the trade name of the operating carrier and the legal name of the operating carrier if different from the trade name, under a rule in effect for a decade, as well.
  • The fees for a first and second checked bag and a carry-on bag, if any, for each client, depending on frequent-flyer status, military status, etc. Previously, the requirement had been limited to providing a link to the carrier's website in confirmations.
  • The client-specific fees and policies for changes and cancellations, if any.
  • The seat-assignment fees, if any, applicable for passengers 13 and younger to be seated next to an accompanying adult in the same class of service.

In addition to these five disclosures at the point a fare is quoted, the DOT is proposing that travel agents must enable family seating fees to be "transactable" at all points of sale. 

The quoted word means that, unlike the other fees, the client would have the right to buy kids' and a parent's seat assignments when the ticket is purchased.

Obviously, making all these disclosures and selling family seat assignments is a heavy burden for travel advisors. Although advisors will theoretically be able to obtain all the required information from the GDS, public OTAs or carrier websites, many advisors will undoubtedly give up trying to sell airline tickets rather than undertake all this research just to sell a ticket.

The DOT has no jurisdiction over hotels, cars and cruises that are not sold as part of a mandatory package.

Although the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Maritime Commission could adopt similar rules, they have not done so. 

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