Senate Report Takes Aim at Airline Transparency

August 6, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC  -  A new congressional report released today took aim at the airline industry for failing to adequately disclose extra fees and add-on costs charged to the flying public.

The report, released today by the minority staff of the Senate Commerce Committee, found that ancillary fees, such as change and cancellation penalties and preferred seating, are increasingly keeping consumers in the dark about the true cost of air travel.  It also made a number of recommendations requiring more transparency from the airline industry.   

“The traveling public is being nickel-and-dimed to death,” said Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the panel’s top Democrat.  “What’s worse is that many flyers don’t learn about the actual cost of their travel until it’s too late.”  Nelson said he intends to press his colleagues to act on the report’s recommendations when the Senate begins its work on legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. 

In the case of preferred seating charges, the report found that consumers who purchase tickets through airline websites are sometimes only presented seats which require an additional fee.  In such instances, many travelers often pay the fee, unaware that the airlines will randomly assign them an available free seat at a later date.   

Additionally, the review found that consumers generally did not receive prominent or clear flight change and cancellation fee disclosures when they purchased tickets from airline websites.  In some instances, penalties for changing flight plans can double the cost of travel – even when the change is made far in advance of the flight.

Among the report’s recommendations: 

  • Better and earlier disclosure of ancillary fees to help consumers compare costs among airlines;
  • Require checked baggage and carry-on baggage fees to have a clear connection between the costs incurred by the airline and the baggage fees charged;
  • Require airlines to promptly refund fees for any bags that are delayed more than 6 hours on a domestic flight;
  • Limit airline change fees to a reasonable amount tied to lead time prior to departure and an amount less than the original fare;
  • Mandate that airlines place clear disclosures that “preferred seat” charges are optional;
  • Require airline and travel agency websites to have a clear and conspicuous links to the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection website; and,
  • Update the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection website to better assist the flying public.

The report comes at a time of growing traveler frustration over airline fees.   According to one recent study, airlines around the world pocketed a record $38.1 billion in extra fees last year – an increase of more than 1400% since 2007.