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Airlines Should Be More Upfront About Fees, Says DOT

Toda, the Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed additional consumer protection rules for air-ticket purchase. The crux of the rules is that airlines must prominently disclose not only base fares and mandatory fees but also the costs of four basic airline services: a first checked bag, a second checked bag, one carry-on item, and an advance seat assignment.

Other parts of the rule extend statistical reporting coverage to smaller airlines, extend the definition of a “ticket agent,” require large travel agencies to adopt minimum customer service standards, require disclosure of code-sharing arrangements, and require agencies to disclose any biases in the presentation of fares, rules, and seat availability.

Clearly, all these rules would help you make better decisions when buying airline tickets. The problem, if any, is not with the objective; rather, it’s with the nuts and bolts of exactly how the optional fees would be disclosed during fare searches. Third-party online travel agencies and airfare search engines would likely face some especially tough problems.

So far, the only response I’ve seen has been from the Business Travel Coalition, which supports the new rules. Presumably, others will follow. You’ll have an easier time making up your mind after you see responses from the many other stakeholders. Meanwhile, if you want to review comments or post your own, visit Docket DOT-OST-2014-0056.

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