Airlines seek to hide taxes and fees in airfare prices

Congress is about to be tested on how much sway the airline industry holds over consumers on Capitol Hill.

So far, the industry is winning.

The Associated Press reports a bill filed in March to repeal the law that requires airlines to tell you exactly how much a ticket costs is zipping along without any accountability. It passed a key committee on a voice vote, apparently so that no congresspeople could be identified as being in favor of it.

The industry says other businesses don’t have to reveal the total cost — including taxes and fees — in advertising, so it shouldn’t have to either.

“Consumers are better served when they can buy airfares like they buy any other product,” Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of Airlines for America, which represents major carriers, tells the AP. “I think what’s confusing is to have airfares treated differently.”

Says the AP:

The department is at work on another round of rules that would require airlines to disclose some add-on fees when they advertise fares. Since 2008, airlines have been unbundling fares, charging for many services that used to be included in the ticket price. Fees vary by airline, but passengers may now be charged extra for an assigned seat, early boarding, a meal, curbside check-in or carry-on bags, among other services.

“I am fed up with the hidden fees and the misleading advertising of prices, which makes it difficult to compare rates,” one frequent flyer wrote the Transportation Department. “I’m tired of being at their mercy.”

Airlines for America has stepped up its Washington lobbying since Nick Calio, the top White House lobbyist under former President George W. Bush, took over as its chief in 2011. Sean Kennedy, an Obama White House lobbyist, joined the association last year.

Thirty airlines spent nearly $30 million on lobbying and employed 213 lobbyists last year, according to the political money-tracking website OpenSecrets.org.

The bill, called the Transparent Airfares Act, is being shepherded by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

The biggest recipient of airline industry campaign cash? Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania.

  • We have a representative democracy, and by that, I mean we citizens are all represented by industry interest groups apparently. I feel the same here as I did yesterday in regards to net neutrality: Why bother getting upset anymore when interest groups are so clearly controlling Congress? Our outrage only falls on deaf ears.

    • David

      I had the same reaction as you – which was the same reaction to the net neutrality post from yesterday. My overall feeing is dejection.

      • Dave

        Which is exactly how they want you to feel.

        • I think the omnipresent “they” want us to feel like democracy is working a-ok and this country embodies all the things it claims to embody. Rejecting a broken system is the first step to something greater.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I side with the airlines.

    The very worst thing government does is hide the trust cost of the revenue it collects, and that’s exactly what it is doing here. Hiding the costs in a way that makes them appear as airfares only allows government to keep raising the cost and escaping the blame. When it can do that it can take more and grow larger almost completely unchecked. Never a good thing.

    Do you get mad at Samsung when you a $499 TV turns out to cost $440 because of sales taxes? Do you get mad at Ford because your $21,000 Fusion costs $22,000 after tax, title and license? There’s no reason to treat airfares any differently.

    It’s not about special interests getting away with anything. What unjust benefit do they gain by being able to advertise the cost they charge for their service in the exact same way that 99 percent of American businesses do? This is about government trying to pull a fast one on travelers and shift the blame for high costs away from itself. That this is even the law in the first place is ridiculous. As I like to say, “Self-perpetuating government self perpetuates.”

    • The airlines have a lot of nerve talking about transparency and fairness and confusion. This is an industry that regularly advertises fares but doesn’t tell you that there’s only one seat at a time available at the price advertised. I’ve got no sympathy for them and their claims ring hollow.

      Of course, this is the same outfit that wants user fees on general aviation so that they can get even more money.

      Also, there’s nothing in the current law that prevents them from breaking down the price of a ticket to show what percentage is from taxes and what is the fees and cost of providing the service. Spirit Airlines does it all the time.

      No, what they want is a system like car rental companies have. They want you to rent a car for $150, only to end up with a total cost of $400 after taxes and surcharges.

      Sure, politically, there’s a lot to gain by whipping people into a frenzy about taxes and fees. But if I want that, I’ll turn on FoxNews. You know what I want more than anything else? To find out how much renting a car is going to cost.

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        I’m not defending anything about how airlines levy fees. How they do that doesn’t mean they deserve to be scapegoated by a money hungry government. If all we care about is bottom line cost, let’s bake government’s cut into everything. It’ll make shopping a heck of a lot easier.

        • Right. A tax is bad. So what if it goes for runways, or an ILS system so people can get down out of the clouds, or pays for air traffic controllers who keep planes from crashing into each other. Government bad. Plane crashes worse, though.

          • kevinfromminneapolis

            Is that what I said? I know what taxes on airfare go for, that’s why I rarely have a problem with raising them. What I do have a problem with is when the government tries to pretend its not the one raising them.

          • It’s not the government charging a flyer for every bag they want to check. It’s not the government charging extra for an assigned seat. It’s not the government charging extra for early boarding. It’s not the government charging extra for a meal.

  • Advertising a $99 flight to somewhere is dishonest when the the final tab, after surcharges, add-ons, and fees, comes to $212. If a consumer can’t opt-out of a fee (e.g. traveling with no baggage besides an allowable carry-on), the fee/surcharge/etc. should simply be included in the flight cost … JUST LIKE IT WAS 20 YEARS AGO before all this b.s. started.

    Otherwise, an airline is as guilty of dishonest peddling as is any other business that does not disclose the full price of purchase before that final online click.

    But, in the end, isn’t it the American consumer – always shopping by price, not quality – who motivates companies to be less-than-honest when it comes to pricing?