Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has introduced a bill that she says would improve transparency and customer service standards for the sale of airline tickets. 

The Air Travel Ticketing Transparency and Protection Act would make tweaks to Klobuchar-sponsored language that is in the current version of the Senate FAA reauthorization bill. It would ask the Department of Transportation (DOT) to synchronize airfare disclosure rules so that OTAs, metasearch sites and brick-and-mortar travel agencies with annual revenues of at least $100 million operate under the same airfare-disclosure requirements as airlines. 

"Most people know what it's like to purchase an airline ticket, only to be hit later with hidden fees. Whether it's a family looking for affordable flights or a small business-owner looking for the best frequent flier program, consumers deserve to know up front exactly what the costs of their travel will be," Klobuchar said in a prepared statement. "This legislation will ensure transparency across all ticket sellers so consumers have the information they need to make informed choices about their air travel."

The legislation has the support of several consumer advocacy groups, including Consumers Union, Flyers Rights and Travelers United. 

"The wording of the bill promotes transparency and the sharing of pricing data," Travelers United chairman Charlie Leocha wrote in an email to Travel Weekly. 

However, OTA and metasearch site advocates oppose the legislation, saying that it would require them to disclose information that the airlines aren't required to even pass along to them. As such, they say, the bill is a backdoor way to give airlines more control over ticket sales by helping them reduce online comparison shopping.

"Despite the pleas made by many different concerned consumer, business and expert groups on this issue during the past several weeks, there is still not a single word in this brief, 370-word bill that requires the airlines to share the fare, schedule and other information necessary for the online travel industry to be able to comply," said Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director of the Air Travel Fairness Coalition.

In the new legislation, Klobuchar added language that appears intended to ease the type of concerns voiced by Ebenhoch. For example, it calls on the DOT to develop a final rule "to enable and require large ticket agents to adopt minimum customer service standards."

The existing Senate bill doesn't include the word "enable."

Klobuchar said she is working to include the new legislation in the Senate's pending FAA reauthorization bill.

In April, the House passed an FAA reauthorization bill with requirements for new disclosures from large travel agencies and metasearch sites. ASTA was among the organizations opposing the measure.

Disagreement over the new Klobuchar bill came on the same day that airline consumer advocates held a public teleconference to voice concerns about various developments related to regulatory oversight of airlines. 

Those advocates are especially worried about a measure included the House FAA bill that would end the full-fare rule, which requires airlines to display government taxes and fees as part of the ticket price from the beginning of a fare inquiry. Another House measure would put an end to the requirement that airlines give consumers 24 hours from the time of purchase to cancel or change a ticket free of charge. 

Advocates also continue to be irked by last December's decision of DOT secretary Elaine Chao to nix an Obama administration proposal to require airlines and travel agents to disclose fees for carry-on and checked bags from the beginning of a fare inquiry. 

During the call, consumer advocacy stalwart Ralph Nader stressed that to make progress on airline-related matters, the consumer advocacy community must do a better job of working with a unified voice.  

"The answer is to get together the business travelers, the non-business traveler constituencies and all the others," Nader said.

 

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