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European Union takes on deceptive airfare pricing

It happens every day here at the office. An email from an airline lands in our inboxes with a headline screaming something like, “London fares from $199!” or “U.S. and Caribbean routes from one cent!” Then our copyeditor sighs and says, “Oh, [insert airline name], not again.”

We know no one will ever pay only $199 or one penny for those flights. Even if our airfare editor is able to find the advertised fares, that low price is never the final price at check-out.

Airline taxes and fees—an often bewildering list of federal and international taxes, airport charges, security fees, and fuel surcharges—can add as much as $40 to domestic tickets and $200 to international fares. Most airlines don’t show these fees up front, however, and certainly not in their advertisements and promotional emails.

It’s welcome news, then, that a government body is trying to tackle the issue of deceptive airfare advertising. Unfortunately, it’s not our government. The European Parliament recently adopted new rules requiring airlines to advertise the full price of tickets to make it easier for consumers to compare options. The rules still need to be approved by the individual EU member states, but lawmakers are hopeful the regulations will be finalized early next year. Likely, the rules will only apply to airlines advertising in Europe, and not European airlines marketing fares in the U.S.

It’d be wonderful for U.S. flyers if our Department of Transportation (DOT) made similar rules, but I’m not holding my breath. Last year the DOT pondered making changes to the system, which allows airlines to advertise fares without taxes and fees (but with fuel surcharges) included. In the end, the DOT decided to maintain the status quo. Many airlines were lobbying the DOT to eliminate all advertising restrictions, so perhaps we should be grateful the DOT didn’t go for that option.

But still, it’s hard to be happy about advertising rules that don’t put the interests of the flying public first.

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