Hidden airfare costs could soon be outlawed

 

The Transportation Department moved Wednesday to force airlines to more openly disclose extra baggage fees and expand other consumer protections to online airfare search tools like Kayak and Google.

The proposal would also require more airlines to publicly report information about the frequency of delays, oversold flights and mishandled baggage rates.

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“Knowledge is power, and our latest proposal helps ensure consumers have clear and accurate information when choosing among air transportation options,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

The draft regulations unveiled Wednesday are meant to build on previous passenger protection rules issued in 2009 and 2011.

Since then, more carriers have imposed fees for second or third checked bags. But the add-on fees are not always made clear, and travelers are often hit with unexpected costs when they arrive at the airport.

Under the proposed rule, any such fees must be disclosed at every point of sale.

The agency is also pushing to broaden the definition of the term “ticket agent,” used in an array of existing regulations governing airline practices and consumer protections. If enacted, the rule would make clear that Internet flight search tools are subject to all of those restrictions.

The proposal would lower the threshold for requirements that airlines disclose performance data.

Currently, any carrier that accounts for one percent of domestic airfare revenue in the United States must report the information. The DOT proposal would lower the bar to include airlines that represent half a percent of the overall revenue, forcing additional carriers, such as Spirit Airlines, to make the data public.

Other provisions of the proposal include a requirement that bigger travel agents adopt minimum customer service standards and a ban on airfare services that preferentially list certain flights above others without disclosing the bias or financial arrangement. 

The draft regulations are in line with a slate of recommendation from two federal advisory committees — the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protection.

The Transportation Department is opening a 90-day comment period to gather feedback on the proposal before a final rule is issued.