The Transparent Airfares Act managed to pass the House in July, but take-off is anything but certain in the Senate as it sits in the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
If enacted, the bill would allow airlines and booking sites to display airfares without government fees and taxes until a customer is about to buy a ticket. Passed on July 28 in the House, the bill arrived in the Senate on July 29, where it was read twice before being referred to the committee for further review. The committee is chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), has 50 cosponsors in the House, and passed by a voice vote, leaving the exact consensus of the House unclear.
OpenSecrets data show Shuster received the largest contribution in the House from the Airlines for America political action committee (PAC) so far this year, getting $10,000. The PAC is a strong supporter of the bill.
Airlines for America, the airline trade group, claims the bill could prevent politicians from raising fees and taxes in the future.
“The bill discourages lawmakers from using air travel as a revenue source every time they need one,” said Victoria Day, a spokesperson for Airlines for America.
Day said Senate action on the House bill isn’t likely before the November elections, due to the Senate’s full schedule and its scheduled adjournment on September 23 until after the elections.
“The fact that the bill passed the House of Representatives sends a strong signal to legislators writing the FAA Reauthorization that this issue should be included and addressed,” she said.
Reauthorization is required as the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that funds the FAA will expire in September 2015.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J. expressed his concerns about the bill by introducing his own Senate bill, “The Real Transparency in Airfares Act.” His bill is the opposite of Shuster’s, leaving current fare rules in place and doubling penalties for airlines and booking sites that don’t initially display the full fare. Airlines continue to be fined for violations of the existing rules.
Menendez argues airlines and booking sites are the only benefactors of the House Transparent Airfares Act. Consumers, he says, are blind-sided by seeing lower base fares and not knowing the total cost of flights until they’re ready to pay.
The existing Department of Transportation rule that covers fares states:
For both domestic and international markets, carriers must provide disclosure of the full price to be paid, including government taxes/fees as well as carrier surcharges, in their advertising, on their websites and on the passenger’s e-ticket confirmation. In addition, carriers must disclose all fees for optional services through a prominent link on their homepage, and must include information on e-ticket confirmations about the free baggage allowance and applicable fees for the first and second checked bag and carry-on.
If enacted, the bill would allow airlines to advertise just the base fare, leading to scenarios where an airline could promote a one cent fare, without revealing mandatory taxes and airline fees until the passenger is finalizing a purchase.
The existing rules for pricing clarity were applauded by consumer groups when initially put in place. These rules followed years of complaints about deceptive advertising by airlines.