I knew airline fees were out of control. At least that's what the media and advocacy groups kept telling me. But I travel, and I haven't been affected by any hidden nonsense. I rarely check bags, so what could those big, bad airlines charge me for? At least that's what I thought.
It seems we flyers paid more than $9.2 billion in fees to U.S. airlines in 2010, but many of these fees were hidden from most travelers when they purchased their airline tickets, because the airlines refuse to share their fee information with travel agents and other distributors, according to a new study by the Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA).
Information on extra (or ancillary) fees, which are not visible to the more than half of consumers who use third parties to book their travel, were the focus of an analysis of major U.S. airlines’ year-end financial reports by CTA, in coordination with Open Allies for Airfare Transparency, a coalition representing hundreds of companies in the managed travel community.
On average, passengers paid a total of $36.80 in fees for every round trip ticket—nearly $150 for a family of four, the study found.
“It’s Christmas every day for the airlines that are raking in billions of dollars in fees without having to adequately disclose information about them up front during the shopping process,” said Charlie Leocha, director of the CTA. “Competition is crippled for the millions of business and leisure passengers who are surprised by these fees—often at the airport. Airlines have the right to sell whatever services they want—but they have a responsibility to disclose their airfares and fees anywhere airline tickets are sold so travelers can compare the total cost of travel across airlines.”
Last fall, more than 60,000 travelers signed a petition sponsored by CTA and the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) that called on the federal government to put an end to hidden fees, and thousands of them shared their hidden fee horror stories.
This study, the first to look at how the hidden fees imposed by major U.S. airlines have impacted the cost of air travel in 2010, was based on fourth-quarter 2010 earnings releases from the nation's eight largest airlines as well as data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
“Buying a plane ticket has become an Alice-in-Wonderland experience where a consumer has to agree to purchase the ticket before being told how much the trip will actually cost,” said Andrew Weinstein, executive director of Open Allies for Airfare Transparency. “Airlines should be able to charge whatever they want for their services, but they should have to share all of those prices with travelers in advance, so consumers can make informed buying decisions. A free market requires access to information to function efficiently, and the air travel marketplace is broken because airlines are not currently sharing any information on billions of dollars in hidden fees.”
“It’s hard to ignore the tens of thousands of consumers who have spoken out against hidden airline fees,” said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the BTC. “That’s why as Congress debates U.S. Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization legislation this month, it has a clear opportunity to safeguard travelers’ ability to comparison shop by requiring airlines to provide ancillary fee information, along with airfares, in any sales channels in which they offer their products and services.”
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