WASHINGTON (AP) — Going to bat for confused passengers, the government is proposing that airlines be required to disclose fees for basic items like checked bags, assigned seats and carry-on bags so consumers know the true cost of flying.
Under new regulations proposed Wednesday by the Transportation Department, detailed fee information — including for a first and second checked bag — would have to be provided wherever passengers buy tickets, whether online, on the phone or in person. Any frequent-flier privileges would also be factored into the price.
Now, airlines are only required to disclose bag fees, and even then they don't have to provide an exact price. Some provide a wide range of possible fees in complex charts.
The rule would also require airlines to share fee information with travel agents and online ticketing services, which account for about 60 percent of ticket sales. Fee information is now usually available only through airlines.
The rule doesn't cover fees for early boarding, curbside check-in and other services.
The government also wants to expand its definition of a "ticket agent" so that consumer regulations like the fee-disclosure requirement apply to online flight search tools like Kayak.com and Google's Flight Search even though they don't actually sell tickets.
Many consumers are unable to determine the true cost of a ticket because fees are often hard to find or decipher, the government says.
"A customer can buy a ticket for $200 and find themselves with a hidden $100 baggage fee, and they might have turned down a $250 ticket with no baggage fee, but the customer was never able to make that choice," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in an interview.
"The more you arm the consumer with information, the better the consumer's position to make choices," Foxx said.
The public has 90 days to comment on the proposal. Foxx said he hopes the rule will become final within the next year.
The effort is partly a response to changes in airline industry business strategy since 2008, when carriers started taking services out of the price of tickets, beginning with checked bags.
More recently, some airlines have begun offering consumers not only a stripped-down "base" airfare, but also a choice of several packages with some of the once-free services added back into the cost of a ticket, but at higher prices. With packages and a la carte fees multiplying, comparison shopping for airfares is becoming more difficult, consumer advocates say.
The department also proposes expanding the pool of airlines required to report performance measures like late flights, lost bags and passengers bounced from flights due to overbooking. Currently, only airlines that account for at least 1 percent of the market must report performance measures, which the department posts online in its Air Travel Consumer Report. The proposed regulations would include carriers that account for little as 0.5 percent of the market. That would bring in discount carrier Spirit Airlines and many regional air carriers.
A trade association for the airline industry said the "proposal overreaches and limits how free markets work," predicting "negative consequences."
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