Lawmakers target 'hidden' airline taxes

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted Wednesday to nullify regulations that require airlines to include taxes and fees in price quotes for flights.

The bill that contains the changes, dubbed the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 (H.R 4156), would eliminate regulations that require airlines to include taxes and fees in the quotes they give to people who are shopping for airfare, which predominantly happens online.

The measure was approved unanimously during a mark-up hearing on Wednesday.

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The bill's sponsor, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), said the Transportation Department's rules have resulted in passengers being misled into thinking airline ticket prices are higher than they actually are.

"Virtually all consumer products are advertised at a base price, with taxes added on at the point of purchase,” Shuster said in a statement last month. “But Department of Transportation regulations have fundamentally and unfairly changed the advertising rules for airfares by requiring all government imposed taxes and fees to be embedded in the advertised price of a ticket.

"As a result, the fact that Americans are paying higher and higher government imposed taxes and fees to travel by air is being hidden from them."

The flight advertising rules were enacted by the transportation department in 2012 as part of the Obama administration's push to implement a series of protections for airline customers that have been dubbed by some observers the "Passenger's Bill of Rights."

Other new regulations for the airline industry include a ban on passengers been held on airport tarmacs for longer than three hours and a requirement that airlines refund baggage fees when they lose luggage.

The only debate in the House committee was over an amendment by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to keep track of sexual assaults that are committed on airplanes.

Norton said the amendment, which was originally a standalone measure that was dubbed the Protecting Airline Passengers from Sexual Assaults Act, would help close a loophole in sexual assault reporting that occurs because in-flight sexual assaults are often not investigated properly due to murky jurisdiction rules.

Norton said the airline advertising bill that is scheduled to be marked up on Wednesday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee “provides an opportunity to move this vital legislation to require the FAA to keep real-time statistics and documentation on sexual assaults on airplanes."

She said on Wednesday that she withdrew the amendment at the request of Shuster after receiving assurances from the Transportation Committee Chairman and the top ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Nick Rahall (W.Va.), that they would find another way to address the issue of in-flight sexual assaults.

-Timothy Cama contributed to this report.