Biden to announce fee transparency rules for airlines

Airlines and travel websites will have to be up front with Americans about additional fees charged for checked baggage, flight changes or cancellations under a new proposed rule unveiled by the federal government Monday. Under the rule, airlines and third-party ticket agents would have to disclose the additional charges when […]

Airlines and travel websites will have to be up front with Americans about additional fees charged for checked baggage, flight changes or cancellations under a new proposed rule unveiled by the federal government Monday.

Under the rule, airlines and third-party ticket agents would have to disclose the additional charges when the airfare is initially displayed online rather than when would-be travelers are finalizing their purchase, the Department of Transportation said in a statement ahead of the formal announcement by President Biden.

“Airline passengers deserve to know the full, true cost of their flights before they buy a ticket,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.

“This new proposed rule would require airlines to be transparent with customers about the fees they charge, which will help travelers make informed decisions and save money.”

The rule will apply to baggage fees, change fees, cancellation fees and family seating fees, the department said. Flights to, within, and from the United States would be affected.

Joe Biden.
President Biden is set to announce the proposed rule at a White House Competition Council meeting later Monday.
Susan Walsh/AP

The department is also proposing that airlines and ticket agents on travel sites enable travelers with a young child to purchase seats with their fare at “all points of sale” given frequent changes to seat availability and fees.

Airlines will also be responsible for providing current and accurate information regarding the fees to any ticket agents who sell or display their fares.

In announcing the proposed rule Monday, Biden said his administration was “cracking down on the airlines.”

I joke now, you know, for the first time in a long time, a plane doesn’t leave until I get there — because it’s Air Force One,” the president said. “But all kidding aside, you’re taking your families somewhere and you’re in a situation where, you know, you — they — they cancel on you, and you have to pay a fee to rebook. Come on, man. No, really. It’s just — it’s simply not fair. It’s not fair.”

In a statement, Airlines for America — the trade group that represents major carriers including Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, and United — questioned whether the rule was necessary.

Travel website.
Airlines and third-party ticket agents will have to disclose additional charges when the airfare is initially displayed online.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

“A4A member passenger airlines – which are fierce competitors—already offer transparency to consumers from first search to touchdown,” spokesperson Marli Collier said. “U.S. airlines are committed to providing the highest quality of service, which includes clarity regarding prices, fees and ticket terms. A4A passenger carriers provide details regarding the breakdown of airfares on their websites, providing consumers clarity regarding the total cost of a ticket. This includes transparency regarding taxes and government fees on airline tickets, which account for more than 20 percent of many domestic one-stop, roundtrip tickets.”

“A4A members offer a range of options – including fully refundable fares – to increase accessibility to air travel and to help customers make ticket selections that best fit their needs,” Collier added. “In addition to the total cost, the terms of ticket selection for these options are stated at the time of purchase.”

The taxes and fees referenced by A4A include a 7.5% levy on ticket purchases for domestic air travel, a further 7.5% tax on the purchase of frequent flyer miles, and the so-called “Sept. 11 fee” of $5.60 per one-way trip, which funds the Transportation Security Administration.

The government’s announcement comes less than two months after the Transportation Department proposed stricter rules for when airlines would have to compensate passengers for canceled or delayed flights.

Airline passengers.
The rule will apply to baggage fees, change fees, cancellation fees and family seating fees.
Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

The department has also sought to force airlines into giving refunds for services like onboard Wi-Fi that do not work.

The administration still has not finalized those rules and is currently seeking public comments.

Under the existing rules, travelers are entitled to a fee refund if bags are lost, but not when flights are delayed.

The proposed rule changes come off the back of mounting complaints after airlines canceled or delayed tens of thousands of flights over the summer as they struggled to ramp up staffing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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