The confusing skies: Check the fine print


This nation’s airlines are hoping travelers won’t read the fine print and are willing to risk angering customers in the hopes of improving business.

The House last Monday passed the Transparent Airfares Act, which will allow airlines to advertise the base price of a ticket before taxes and fees are added.

Under current federal regulations, airlines are required to emphasize the full ticket price in their advertising.

If the new bill is approved by the Senate and president, we fear it will make air travel confusing for paying customers and ultimately will be bad for the airlines themselves.

The measure comes thanks to the hard work of the lobbyists who represent the airlines and those who represent the airline employee unions.

Those are two sides that don’t normally get along, but together they argued that showing the full price of a ticket dampens the demand for travel.

Depending on how you calculate it, taxes and fees on the cheapest flights can add up to somewhere between $48 and $63.

That’s in the neighborhood of 20 percent of a $300 ticket. The airlines also argue that forcing them to advertise the full price hides the costs imposed on air travel by the government.

That’s a valid point. However, there are plenty of ways to convey that message to customers without giving them sticker shock. They can inform customers about these costs through the advertising, via email after a ticket is purchased or over the phone during a booking call.

We’re sure airlines and airline unions also are lobbying Washington to get these taxes and fees reduced on behalf of their customers but, as any American knows, once the government levies a tax, it’s almost impossible to get it reduced or eliminated.

The Airfares Act comes as airlines are seeing positive trends in customer satisfaction. According to the 2014 J.D. Power survey, airlines scored 712 points on a scale of 1,000 in customer satisfaction. That was a record high number and an improvement of 17 points from last year.

We wonder, though, how those numbers will fare when customers start getting surprised at the ticket booth with taxes and fees. Will they blame the government, as the airlines are clearly hoping, or will they accuse the airlines of a bait and switch?

Regardless of what happens, this is another reminder for shoppers to always check the fine print.

— From the Panama City News Herald

 

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