Travel group pushes for review of airline competition

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Passenger advocates are pushing for a review of U.S. airline competition as lawmakers consider a new funding measure for the Federal Aviation Administration. 

The Travel Technology Association said in a letter to lawmakers that "the time has come for a thorough review of competition within the air travel marketplace," citing airline mergers and campaigns against foreign competitor in recent years. 

"Over the past several years, American consumers have seen a slow but steady erosion in flight options and choices in many cities across the country and a general dissatisfaction with the overall air travel experience that is leading many travelers to ask how we got here," the group said in a letter to members of the House Transportation Committee. 

"Travel Tech has joined with stakeholders representing business and leisure travelers, national travel associations, and travel technology innovators in proposing the establishment of a national commission to explore the issues of competition in air travel," the group continued. 

"The broad-based and comprehensive commission would explore for the first time in over two decades the impact of consolidation in the domestic airline industry on competition, the benefits of Open Skies agreements and what effects any proposed changes would have on consumers, as well as a reexamination of antitrust immunity to U.S.-foreign airline alliance agreements," the letter said. 

Lawmakers in the House are scheduled to hold an initial hearing on the proposed FAA funding measure on Wednesday. The agency's funding is currently set to expire on March 31

Most of the debate about the aviation funding bill thus far has been focused on a controversial plan from House Republicans to separate air traffic control from the FAA

But Travel Tech said lawmakers should also take a look at competition in the airline industry, which has greatly consolidated in recent years.

"Congress, the administration, and the American people would benefit greatly from identifying and understanding the commercial air travel market landscape and whether current policies — some of which have been in place since the dawn of commercial air travel — are sufficient to enhance competition and benefit and protect consumers," the group wrote.  

"Travel Tech urges the committee to include language in the AIRR Act that would create a commission to examine these important topics in the air travel industry." 

Consumer protection groups have complained for years about airline ticket prices. The Department of Justice said last year that it is investigating whether airlines are colluding to keep fares artificially high after a string of mergers that consolidated the industry.

Airlines have denied the collusion allegations, citing the DOJ's inclusive findings in 2015. 

"A commission to study airline competition is completely unnecessary given the findings of the Department of Justice that consumers benefit from competition in the industry as it exists today," the group that lobbies for most airlines in Washington, Airlines for America, said in a statement .

"While airfare is a bargain and consumers continue to see average fares decline, consumer benefits encompass much more than low fares," the group continued. 

The airline group added that its members "compete vigorously every day, and the traveling public has been the beneficiary. 

"It is customers who decide pricing, voting every day with their wallets on what they value and are willing to pay for." 

-This story was updated at 5:42 p.m.