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DOT Considering Airline Fee Disclosures



Travel industry officials and consumer advocates complain it’s getting harder for consumers to know the true price of air fares so they can compare across airlines.

The Department of Transportation is considering whether to require airlines to provide fee information to everyone with whom they have agreements to sell their tickets. A decision originally scheduled for next month has been postponed to May, as regulators struggle with a deluge of information from airlines opposed to regulating fee information, and from the travel industry and consumer groups that support such a requirement.

Travel industry officials and consumer advocates complain it’s getting harder for consumers to know the true price of air fares so they can compare across airlines.

The Department of Transportation is working on a proposal to address the issue. Regulators had planned to offer the proposal next month, but a decision has been postponed till May because the department is deluged with arguments from both sides.

Meanwhile, Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air and Southwest Airlines — with backing from industry trade associations — are asking the Supreme Court to reverse an appeals court ruling forcing them to include taxes in their advertised fares. USA Today reports the appeals court upheld a Transportation Department rule that went in effect nearly a year ago that ended airlines’ leeway to advertise a base airfare and show the taxes separately, often in smaller print. Airlines say the regulations violate their free-speech rights.

At the heart of the debate is a desire by airlines to move to a new marketing model in which customers don’t buy tickets based on price alone. Instead, following the well-worn path of other consumer companies, airlines want to mine personal data about customers in order to sell them tailored services.

If airlines have their way, passengers looking for ticket prices may have to reveal a lot more information about themselves, such as their age, marital status, gender, nationality, travel history and whether they’re flying for business or leisure. The International Air Transport Association, whose 240 member airlines cover 84 percent of global airline traffic, adopted standards at a meeting earlier this month in Geneva for such information gathering by airlines as well as by travel agents and ticketing services that would relay the data to airlines and receive customized fares in return.

Consumer advocates question how airlines would safeguard the personal information they gather, and they worry that comparison shopping for the cheapest air fares will no longer be feasible.

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