It’s time to fight unjust airline fees

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For many, this holiday season will be the first time in years that people across the country are able to join together, see their loved ones, and celebrate as a family. But for too many, holiday travel also means bellying up to astronomical airline prices, facing extreme price gouging, and falling victim to exorbitant hidden fees.

This holiday season, it’s time for airlines to finally end their unfair and unreasonable pricing practices. Let’s give Americans the gift everyone is asking for: flexibility, comfort, and peace of mind in the skies — without gaping holes in our pockets.

In 2019, the last full year before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted air travel, airlines worldwide collected $109.5 billion in ancillary fee revenue, meaning the extra charges they impose for checked bags, seat selection, flight changes, queue jumping, meals, drinks, and more. That dollar-figure is up nearly fivefold from $22.6 billion in 2010. In 2019, U.S. domestic airlines collected $5.8 billion in baggage and $2.8 billion in ticket reservation fees alone.

This year, we are already seeing the airlines begin their holiday pricing charade. As of the beginning of this month, the cheapest, nonstop roundtrip flight from Boston to Washington, D.C., costs a traveler roughly $435 during the week of Christmas. Meanwhile, those same flights in mid-January would rack up only a $79 charge.

And that’s only the price for a plane seat. If a traveler needs to check a bag, there is a fee. If a traveler wants more legroom, there is a fee. If parents want to change their seats to be near their children, there is a fee. If a traveler’s plan changes, as they often do, there is a fee. Even worse, these unreasonable fees are often opaque and hidden, leaving travelers blindsided by the final price when they reach checkout.

To add insult to injury, last year the U.S. Department of Transportation received around 90,000 complaints from airline travelers who had yet to receive refunds for their flights canceled in the midst of the pandemic. According to a CBS report, these airline companies still owe fliers more than $20 billion in refunds. That is unjust and immoral at a time of such economic upheaval for American families.

That’s why we are taking action to combat highway robbery in the skies. This week, we are reintroducing our Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous (FAIR) Fees Act to prohibit airlines from charging unreasonable and disproportionate fees to the costs of the services actually provided — including bags, seating, cancellation, and change fees.

Our bill would also direct the Department of Transportation to review any other fees imposed by airlines, as well as ensure that children can sit together with their family members on flights at no additional charge.

Ensuring that airline customers have basic consumer rights every time they fly is a requirement in the 21st century, especially as we build back better from the global pandemic. It’s time for consumer dollars to go back into their pockets rather than airline coffers. This holiday, Congress can take serious action to return fairness to the friendly skies.

Sen. Markey represents Massachusetts. Rep. Cohen represents Tennessee’s 9th District.

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