Airlines are trying to make it more difficult for you to find out the full price of a plane ticket, and some members of Congress are trying to help them.
The Transparent Airfares Act (HR.1456) would allow airlines to show the base price of a flight prominently, then place the total price of the flight, including taxes, fees and other charges, in another, far less prominent portion of the website.
Under current rules put in place two years ago to promote airfare disclosure, airlines are required to prominently display the total price of the ticket, with all taxes and fees included. Go on any airline website right now and check out a flight. The price you see is the price you pay. That's as it should be.
But 34 members of the House of Representatives are cosponsoring a bill supported by the airline industry to disguise the actual price. (None of the cosponsors is from New York.) Under their bill, consumers would only get to learn the actual price of a flight — which can be over 21 percent higher than the advertised price — when they finalize plans to purchase the ticket.
The airlines say they want the bill so they can demonstrate to customers how much the industry is being overtaxed. But the current law already allows them to do that; they can place the advertised price near the full price, just less prominently. There's no need for this legislation.
Labeling this bill "transparent" when it actually encourages the opposite is more than just thesaurus abuse. It's deliberately deceptive. And the members of Congress who pushed this through committee without even going on the record with their votes are bowing to the powerful airline industry lobby at the expense of their air-traveling constituents.
Supporters of the bill do have a point in that hotels and car rental agencies aren't subject to the same disclosure rule. For instance, a random online rental car advertised at $170.99 came to $216.59 at checkout after $45.60 in fees were added. That's a 26 percent increase. A random hotel room advertised at $179 came to $208.27 after $29.27 in taxes were added, a 16.4 percent bump from the advertised price. Finding out this information was cumbersome, just like it used to be for airfares. That's why they changed the law.
Letting hotels and rental agencies hide the taxes and fees they pack on isn't exactly fair or transparent, either. But the solution isn't to let the airlines go back to obfuscating the full price of tickets. The solution is to require that hotels and rental-car agencies, often part of the same travel package, disclose their full prices in the same manner.
Congress should go in the opposite direction of the Transparent Airfares Act and take steps to force airlines to prominently disclose other add-on fees, such as those for baggage, priority seating and early boarding. The same thing with hotels, which add on parking and early-departure fees, and car rental companies, which add on all kinds of extras.
For their protection, consumers need more disclosure in advertising, not more of the secrecy and deception this bill would allow.