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Airlines take case to Congress on airfare rule

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 8, 2014 at 9:28 pm •  Published: May 8, 2014
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Transportation Department officials say airlines are free under current rules to spell out taxes and fees so long as the full price is more prominent.

The fight over how to present fares is part of an ongoing clash between airlines and the administration over passenger rights. During President Barack Obama's first term, the Transportation Department issued several far-reaching aviation consumer regulations, beginning with a ban on so-called tarmac strandings in which passengers were cooped up in planes for hours, sometimes in miserable conditions.

Other recent regulations include allowing passengers to cancel reservations within 24 hours without penalty, tougher requirements for compensating passengers denied boarding because of overbooking and bag fee disclosure requirements.

Against airline resistance, the administration implemented its airfare disclosure rule in 2012. Several airlines, supported by their trade group, had sued in federal court to overturn it, but the court sided with the government, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the airlines' appeal.

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 flier 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.

Shuster has received $64,900 in airline contributions so far in this election season, making him the top congressional recipient of airline contributions. He's also received $22,500 from air transport unions. Other sponsors of the bill were also among the industry's top recipients. "The chairman receives support from many constituencies because they support his agenda, not the other way around," said Shuster spokesman Jim Billimoria.

Opposition to Shuster's bill is beginning to surface. On Monday, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced opposing legislation that maintains the existing regulation and doubles the penalty for violating it.

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy