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New House Bill Would Allow Airlines to Market Base Fares

Crowded Airport

Earlier this week, we looked at the possibility of TSA requiring books to be screened separately at airport security. If that weren’t enough to upset travelers, USA Today reports that Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) has introduced a bill that would allow airlines to advertise only their base fares.

Before 2012, airlines were able to market flights with only these base fares and leave the total cost for the fine print. This allowed airlines to advertise amazingly cheap flights without mentioning the taxes and fees.

While this might not have a huge impact on some flights, if you are flying to London-Heathrow (LHR), for example, it could have a significant impact. This is due to taxes charged in the UK and surcharges imposed by the airlines.

Airfare Taxes And Fees
The base fare of a flight to London-Heathrow doesn’t even begin to show the actual cost of the flight.

As you’ll notice in the example above, the base fare is only $241. If you saw that advertised for a flight to London, you’d probably be pretty ecstatic! But you’d feel pretty disappointed once you clicked through and found out the total cost was actually $705.66.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) saw the impact this had on consumers and put a stop to it. They put rules in place to prevent these deceptive marketing practices, and have required airlines to advertise the total cost of a ticket since January 2012.

In our example above, the massive price bump also comes from carrier-imposed surcharges, commonly referred to as fuel surcharges. These surcharges stem from a time when oil prices were high, and airlines wanted to offset the cost of fuel. Now that oil prices have dropped, many airlines continue to charge these fees rather than increase base fares.

The airlines have argued that this DOT rule is an unfair requirement, since other industries are not required to list the total cost of their goods and services in advertising.

Spirit Airlines, claiming a free speech violation, even took DOT to the Supreme Court over the issue, but the court chose not to hear the case. On the other hand, consumer advocates have argued that if airlines weren’t required to list the total cost of a ticket, comparison shopping would be more difficult.

One could understand the airlines’ frustration if the taxes and fees required on a ticket weren’t directly supporting the aviation industry. Let’s take the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) as an example.

The PFC is a user fee that helps fund airport infrastructure projects such as runway repairs, new runways, new gates, and new terminals. It specifically funds projects that are vital to the functioning of an airport, and it’s tailored to an airport’s specific needs.

The maximum PFC at any given airport is $4.50, and airports have to justify charging the user fee by showing how the money will be used to improve their facilities.

Without improvements to airport infrastructure, our already struggling airports would have a hard time handling the ever-increasing number of passengers that fly each year. Airlines might want to be able to list lower prices, but these taxes and fees are part of the reason they can operate.

This is on top of the fact that American carriers already struggle with delayed and canceled flights. Without the resources to improve and expand our airports, we can only expect these conditions to continue to devolve. With such a direct impact on the ability of airlines to function, it’s not unreasonable for fees like this to be included in the marketed price.

Even if we forget about the fact that infrastructure funding helps all airlines do business, consider the impact this has on travelers and what that means for airlines. Travelers are increasingly frustrated, to the point that fights have broken out at gates and even once on board a plane.

The relationship between passengers and crew has continued to suffer as a result of frustration with the travel experience. If airlines think that marketing part of the cost of a ticket is going to ease tension and improve the situation, they are sorely mistaken.

Fortunately, this bill is a long way from being signed into law. Rep. Shuster introduces it during every Congressional session; even though it passed in the House of Representatives last session, it ultimately died in the Senate. Hopefully, Congress will recognize the negative impact this bill would have on consumers and reject it for good.

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