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Are New Consumer Protections at Risk?

Representative Tom Graves (R-GA) introduced a bill this week to undo the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) latest consumer protection rule. As we’ve reported, that rule requires airlines to post “all up” fares, including all fees and taxes, in public advertising and on their websites. For obvious reasons, most consumer advocates support this new rule, which makes side-by-side airfare comparisons much easier.

The bill proposes to undo that protection. As is so often the case these days, even the bill’s name is deceptive: “Travel Transparency Act.” I don’t see how anything could be more “transparent” than telling consumers exactly what they have to pay, in total.

The bill’s sponsors—Graves and co-sponsors Ron Paul (R-TX) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA)—say that separation of government taxes and fees “hides” taxes and therefore allows the government to increase them as part of a “hidden agenda.” This argument, of course, is rot (some of you may substitute a more colorful descriptor). Under the new DOT rules, airlines can still inform consumers of the taxes and fees; they just can’t remove them from the total fare displays.

This bill will face a lot of opposition and its chances of success are probably slim. And even if it were to pass, consumers could live with a regime that excludes only genuine government fees and taxes. Fare comparisons could still be on a level playing field

But given the support of Spirit and a few other airlines—and the politicians in their pockets—there’s a good chance a final bill will have a real “hidden” trap: a provision that would allow airlines to exclude fees and surcharges that they assess and pocket, themselves, along with government-imposed fees. In the past, airlines have done just that. The most noxious of those fees have been fuel surcharges, which are a complete scam, but airlines have also imposed a variety of other fees of their own.

New regulations—in Europe as well as the U.S.—prevent airlines from pulling such scams. Overturning those new protections would do consumers a great harm. Let’s hope enough senators and representatives agree to defeat this unwise piece of legislation.

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