In travel, what’s next for consumer-friendly legislation?May 16, 2019
The travel industry is strictly regulated for health and safety, a fact for which we should all be grateful. But when it comes to consumer protection — and comfort — most laws still favor businesses.
What do passengers say they want? Transparent pricing. Fair business practices. And a little more legroom on the plane, please.
In recent years, efforts to make those things happen have met with mixed results. Here’s where they stand as we head into the summer travel season:
Consumer advocates such as John Breyault, a vice president of the National Consumers League, are pushing for legislation that would relieve one of the biggest pain points for travelers: out-of-control add-on fees, known in airline-speak as “ancillary fees.” The legislation is called the FAIR Fees Act, and it nearly passed last year.
The FAIR Fees Act would require that cancellation fees, baggage fees and other fees be “reasonable and proportional” to the costs incurred by airlines. It received bipartisan support in the Senate; ultimately, a huge lobbying campaign against it by the airlines doomed it.
NCL’s last public effort was a joint letter signed by several consumer advocacy organizations asking for FAIR’s provisions to be included in the latest Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. It was unsuccessful, but the organization’s efforts are ongoing. “There is a new impetus for this,” Breyault told me. The latest Aeroflot disaster, in which some passengers grabbed luggage from overhead bins before evacuating the plane, is putting the focus back on added fees, especially for checked baggage.
Kevin Mitchell, whose Business Travel Coalition represents corporate travelers, says airline alliances also deserve some legislative attention. The Transportation Department exempts airlines from U.S. antitrust laws, which allows them to establish code-sharing agreements to jointly operate flights. (When you see a notation next to your flight itinerary that says “operated by” that’s usually a code-share flight.) Mitchell says code-sharing has hurt competition on many routes and needs to be reined in.
“Those alliances went from 41 percent market share in the U.S.-to-Europe market in 2000 to some 90 percent today,” he says. That sent airfares soaring by more than 20 percent. Mitchell says if airlines lost their antitrust immunity, it might increase competition and lower fares. He is lobbying Congress to take a closer look at airline immunity and says the effort is ongoing.
Hotels are under scrutiny from consumer advocates because of mandatory resort fees. The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) says a survey it commissioned found that 61 percent of American travelers oppose these fees, which are often charged in addition to the advertised price.
“We support transparency in travel pricing,” says Eben Peck, ASTA’s executive vice president for advocacy. “Hidden resort fees violate that principle.”
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