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In days gone by I worked in the travel industry, and I still keep up with legislation that is relevant to airlines. There's a very important bill that has received little media coverage, and that if enacted would make it effectively impossible to comparison-shop airline fares. It's misleadingly called the "Transparent Airfares Act," but what it would really do would allow airlines to advertise fares that are much lower than what anybody can actually get.

And I know, you're thinking, "But they do that already." They do, as much as they can - but they are currently constrained by something called the Full Fare Advertising Rule." As Anolik Associates, a law firm specializing in the travel industry, puts it on their Website),

"The Full Fare Advertising rule is a federal consumer protection law established to prevent and punish deceptive airfare advertisements.  The rule mandates that whenever a carrier or their ticket agent states a price for air transportation, the full price be stated.  Put simply, the price advertised is the price that the customer must pay.  If this is not true and the total cost of the ticket exceeds the advertised price, then the advertisement is likely in violation."

The new law would repeal that rule, allowing airlines to quote fares that could not be obtained under any circumstances.

Follow me below the cloud with the sun behind it and I'll explain more...

Current law states that any airfare that is published must be something that you can actually get - an airline can't take a fare that is only available on a round-trip basis, divide that in half, and advertise it as a one-way fare. The airline must include taxes and airport fees so that a shopper can actually assess the true value of the ticket. The current law was put in place to correct abuses that included quoting low season fares in advertisements for high season travel, quoting rates without taxes and fuel surcharges, and other deceptions.

So why would the airlines do this, knowing that it would anger and confuse their customers? Two reasons:

1. Seeing cheap airfares in ads starts people thinking about traveling, maybe even causes someone to promise their spouse a vacation because they don't realize the true cost. Once people have done something like this, they tend to follow through even if they can't really afford it.

2. Seeing those cheap airfares caused people to phone the airline, where they would talk to reservation agents who were adept at sales jobs that got the client engaged in the process. The agent would string the caller along and triumphantly announce that the fare had been found, then get all the customer information, credit card information, et cetera - and then they'd explain dry quickly that the fare quoted was one-way, and there were extra taxes and fees on top of that. The customer was already involved in the process, and might not even understand that those fees weren't all included until they received their bill.

I was one of the people at the sharp end of this - when people called my travel agency for fares, we quoted the real price, then had to listen to people complain that we must be crooks, because they had seen it advertised for half as much. We had to preface any fare quote by explaining that there were scam fares and false advertisements run by the airlines, which is not a great way to begin a conversation. Some people still didn't believe us and hung up. (The gracious ones called back to apologize after they went through the whole rigamarole.)

The Department of Transportation enacted a rule that fares had to be quoted honestly, which put a stop to the worst violations. It is that rule that the airlines are now trying to overturn, on the somewhat bizarre basis that they are being forced to quote rates that include taxes, and that customers want to know what percentage of their airfare is taxes. If this rule is repealed, airlines would be allowed to take a reservation on their website, collect passenger information and credit card details, make rental car and hotel reservations, and only at the last step reveal the actual price of the airfare. Consumers would be forced to go through the entire process to find out what they would pay, which would immensely increase the time involved in comparison shopping. It's a monopolist's dream.

The bill is called the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, and it seems designed to do two things: Make the public angry that airlines are charged taxes and encourage a tax revolt mindset, and  allow the airlines to advertise falsely. You can see how that anti-tax strategy is employed on this website, which is for the act, but admits that an airfare that costs $300.00 would be advertised as $237.00 because that is the percentage of the fare that goes to the airlines:

House Argument in favor of the act:
http://transportation.house.gov/...

There is an easy and obvious alternative that the airlines don't like, the one practiced by every gas station. When I fill up my tank, the real price I pay is right there, along with a sign that says "This price includes state and federal taxes in the amount of $x.xx per gallon." This gives both the true price and the tax breakdown, but that is not what the airlines ad the Republican leadership want.

The shocking thing is that some Democrats have joined this anti-consumer bill that seems designed primarily to make Republican arguments about all taxes being evil.

I have already contacted my Congressman's office in DC - the staffer who took my call said he had never heard of this bill, and he had to look it up. It is a stealth item, and it may pass if people don't demand otherwise. I encourage you to inform yourselves - ere is an article about it:

Article at Skift.com (a travel site).  

Inform yourselves and get active, please! The alternative is an end to meaningful airfare competition and the ability to comparison shop. I haven't seen this diaried elsewhere, and it's time to at now.

Thanks for reading - now do something!

PNE

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