The Not So Transparent “Transparent Airfares Act”

How the Airlines Are Selling The Act

There has been a great deal of interest from air travelers in the new ‘Transparent Airfares Act’. The flying public is being told by the airlines (who have been lobbying for this legislation) that this Act is an attempt to keep the government taxes in check. The argument is that the airlines wish to separate out their airfares from the taxes we have to pay, so that we may see just how much tax the government is taking and to prevent the government from being able to increase taxes on airline tickets by stealth (see this plea by American’s CEO Doug Parker)

How the Airlines Are Selling The Act

The problem with this explanation is that there isn’t any reason why airlines can’t already show the flying public just how much taxes we’re all paying. There’s nothing stopping an airline from showing that out of the total we’re being charged, $x goes to the airline and $y goes to the Government….in fact, the airlines already do this (see image below). So why the need for legislation? What’s really going on?

With one click on the American Airlines’ website passengers can see what taxes they’re paying, so why the need for legislation?

In 2011 the Government introduced the Airline Consumer Rule (view details from US DOT) which, amongst other things, required airlines to show the full price of a flight when advertising a fare. Airlines could no longer claim to be selling a flight for “just $99 return”, for example, only to hit you with taxes and other charges at check out, meaning the price increased dramatically. Thanks to this legislation, consumers now know up front what they’re going to be asked to pay for a flight and there are no surprises at check out. Some opponents claim that this is not welcome by the airlines as it make it more difficult for them to hide their extra fees (like fuel surcharges).

Should this legislation become law (and it has already passed the House of Representatives) air travelers are concerned that airlines will hide their charges in amongst the government taxes, in an attempt to be anything but ‘transparent’. The traveling public fears that the last thing airlines want is for them to be able to see what they’re being charged for and by whom. Should this act pass into law, it seems that consumers will have less, rather than more, information about how much a flight will cost them.

From the outside, it is hard to see what in this legislation is designed to make booking airfares easier, better or cheaper. It seems to be encouraging airlines to revert to previous practices where the advertised ticket price wasn’t what passengers were expected to pay in the end. The question being asked is how is that good for consumers?