by Brian Wolfman
We explained recently that airlines may be misleading consumers into paying add-on fees for seats by tricking consumers in thinking that most of the good seats are sold out when they really aren't. And we've covered the issue of airline fees and prices generally many times (go, for instance, here and here).
Now, read this AP story by Joan Lowy, which explains that the ubiquity of airline fees charged separately from the base travel price, and the failure of the airlines to provide fee information to on-line travel agents such as Orbitz, are making it very difficult for consumers to comparison shop on the basis of price. The Obama Administration is considering new regulations, and one Transportation Department regulation is under fire from the airlines in the courts.
Here's an excerpt from Lowy's article:
For many passengers, air travel is only about finding the cheapest fare. But as airlines offer a proliferating list of add-on services, from early boarding to premium seating and baggage fees, the ability to comparison-shop for the lowest total fare is eroding. Global distribution systems that supply flight and fare data to travel agents and online ticketing services like Orbitz and Expedia, accounting for half of all U.S. airline tickets, complain that airlines won't provide fee information in a way that lets them make it handy for consumers trying to find the best deal. * * * Now the Obama administration is wading into the issue. The Department of Transportation is considering whether to require airlines to provide fee information to everyone with whom they have agreements to sell their tickets. A decision originally scheduled for next month has been postponed to May, as regulators struggle with a deluge of information from airlines opposed to regulating fee information, and from the travel industry and consumer groups that support such a requirement. Meanwhile, Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air and Southwest Airlines — with backing from industry trade associations — are asking the Supreme Court to reverse an appeals court ruling forcing them to include taxes in their advertised fares. The appeals court upheld a Transportation Department rule that went in effect nearly a year ago that ended airlines' leeway to advertise a base airfare and show the taxes separately, often in smaller print. Airlines say the regulations violate their free-speech rights.