Here come the fake consumer advocates

As the hour of the House Subcommittee on Aviation hearing on airline fees draws closer, I’m amused by the number of self-appointed consumer advocates who have come forward to claim this issue as their own. And troubled.

Expect to see these impostors parading around Washington in the next few days and speaking in canned soundbites on the nightly news and on the front pages of our dying newspapers.

Truth is, this is not their issue. It isn’t my issue.

It is your issue.

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that most of these so-called “advocates” didn’t give a damn about airline fees until the Congress got involved. And if you keep scrolling back in time, you’ll notice very few people who actually spoke out against the massive fraud the airline industry has perpetrated on the American public before it became the issue du jour in DC.

No, this is your fight. Yours to win — or lose.

And so I asked you: What do you want from the hearings. I put the question to my new listserv (you can sign up here).

Longtime reader Ron Goltsch thinks we should talk about the confusion air travelers feel when they book a ticket:

Right now, if I compare a flight on United versus Southwest, there is no indication during the price comparisons that United charges extra for checked baggage. Without a universal final cost display, the customer is left to wonder what their final price will be.

Do we need to enact laws to force the airlines to disclose all their fees BEFORE the final purchase is made? Perhaps we need to set some baseline ticket pricing model: one passenger, one checked bag, one carryon bag, one non-alcoholic drink on board = final cost.

Without a doubt, Ron.

I’d like to know why the airfares on competing lines are so often identical, down to the last penny.

That’s from Roseanne Skopp. So would I.

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Here’s one from someone we’ll just call Mr. Unhappy Traveler:

Congress has allowed the US airline industry to strangle travelers since deregulation in 1978.

The oligopoly that now exists can and will do as they please, unless competing with a low-cost carrier in some markets. The legacy airlines learned years ago that Congress’ attention and support are based on hearty contributions to members! Mr. Oberstar is one member that refuses to go along with the status quo, but he is a voice in the wilderness.

Much like banking, insurance, and other critical industries, air transportation is controlled by few, but very powerful, corporations whose influence is not likely to wane anytime soon. I’m afraid these hearings won’t amount to much.

Mark Mealey added just one question. A request, really:

I want the airlines to includes all taxes, surcharges, fees, airline costs when the price is first quoted not right before I need to click purchase.

Technology guru and longtime reader Richard Eastman suggested a few questions needed to be raised:

1. What is government role in fee oversight?

2. How does the government (or for that matter, does an airline) define an “unbundled” service for which a fee is added in such a way as to be able to compare apples-with-apples; oranges-with-oranges?

3. How does the government compare one “unbundled service fee” with another air carrier’s “all inclusive” airline seat price (i.e. one airline charges for baggage; another includes baggage in its ticket price – one airline charges for light snacks; another includes them in the ticket price; etc.)?

4. How will airlines report on service fees charged when they are (a) often not included in ticket-price; (b) often reflected in different revenue flow or accounting streams; (c) sometimes sold by third or fourth party vendors; (d) sometimes sold “on board”; etc.?

5. Who will pay the added cost incurred by the airlines (and the government) needed to build the accounting systems and tracking tools to provide the information needed for these reports; and what will those costs be?

Valid questions, all.

Finally, there’s this comment from reader Lucy Smith.

I don’t know whether this hearing and the questions and statements will make a difference, but if they’re having a hearing, there should at least be a response from the public, represented by someone who has his finger on the pulse of the people and the airlines. (You, Christopher Elliott!). If an airline cannot make it on ticket prices, It should not be in business today.

Bottom line: Straighten up and fly straight! Cut out all the crap, people.

Well, thanks for that. But I haven’t been asked to testify. All I can do — all we can do — is wish the people who are representing all of us the very best.

We can hope that their efforts signal the beginning of a sustained effort to help air travelers deal with a scam that routinely doubles the price of an airline ticket.

(Photo: christoph schrey/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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