Congress should choose consumers over airline special interests

The highly controversial H.R. 4156, the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, is on the short list in the U.S. House of Representatives for inclusion on the Suspension Calendar prior to the August recess. H.R. 4156 is contentious legislation that would harm millions of consumers by reversing a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rule implemented in 2012 as a cure for misleading airline advertising. In a communication this week, leading consumer groups urged House Members to strongly object to the inclusion of H.R. 4156 on the Suspension Calendar. 

Consumer groups were not alerted to the prospect of this legislation nor were they provided any opportunity for input. H.R. 4156 was rushed by voice vote through the House Transportation Committee on April 9, 2014 after just 9 minutes of discussion. There were no public submissions or debate. The haste that has accompanied this bill, with no hearings at which other stakeholders would have had an opportunity to inform Congress of their views and the flaws in this bill, is regrettable.

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Now after steamrollering the bill through Committee, airlines seek to subvert the Suspension Calendar procedure. There is not one consumer group or business travel organization that supports this legislation; most have publicly criticized both the bill and the rushed process. This is not the type of unobjectionable proposal -- like the naming of a federal building -- that the Suspension Calendar is designed for, but rather, it is harmful and controversial special-interest legislation.

Indeed, The New York Times Editorial Board on April 22 criticized the bill in an editorial saying: "This push to mislead consumers is particularly galling since recent mergers, like that of American Airlines and US Airways, have made the industry less competitive."” Likewise, The Washington Post reported on April 24: “Consumers have reacted to this bill in the same way their advocates have: They’re dead-set against it.”  

Consumer groups including AirlinePassengers.org, Association for Airline Passenger Rights, Business Travel Coalition, Consumers Union, Ed Perkins, Consumer Advocate, FlyersRights.org, National Consumers League, Travelers United and U.S. PIRG have urged all Members of the U.S. House to stand up against airlines and for consumers and insist House leadership not include this highly controversial bill on the Suspension Calendar but rather require travel industry and consumer groups’ input and proper deliberation.

Mitchell is founder and chairman of Business Travel Coalition.