How should airline fees be displayed?

So the federal government weighed in on airline fees earlier this week, and will soon require optional fees like baggage, meals and in-flight Wi-Fi, to be “prominently” disclosed on a carrier’s website.

But that may not be enough.

The Transportation Department has promised a second administrative rulemaking later this year to deal with the question of how, exactly, airlines should be required to show their fees.

Here’s the new requirement from Wednesday’s final rulemaking:

(d) If a U.S. or foreign air carrier has a website marketed to U.S. consumers where it advertises or sells air transportation, the carrier must prominently disclose on its website information on fees for all optional services that are available to a passenger purchasing air transportation.

Such disclosure must be clear, with a conspicuous link from the carrier’s homepage directly to a page or a place on a page where all such optional services and related fees are disclosed.

“Optional services” are defined as any service the airline provides, for a fee, beyond passenger air transportation. Such fees include, but are not limited to, charges for checked or carry-on baggage, advance seat selection, in-flight beverages, snacks and meals, pillows and blankets and seat upgrades.

Most airlines already disclose their fees in a similar way, so the change isn’t exactly revolutionary. And you’ll still need a calculator to figure out the total cost of your airline ticket.

Has the DOT done enough, or does it need to strengthen this rule?

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.

  • Tom

    Customers need full information before purchase. Only when customers have full information will the best airline with the best prices triumph in the marketplace. With inadequate information, customers make poor choices and dishonest or overpriced airlines thrive. The government needs to set the ground rules that all players follow. Car companies used to make exagerated claims about mileage and customers were left guessing until the government fixed a testing methodology, similarly with food nutrition, banking etc.

  • Mark

    Since this clear pricing was introduced here in (most of) Europe, traveling has become so much more transparent and much less stressfull, also for airline ticket counter staff.

  • Billgoco

    If I’m booking International travel, the airline shows the initial price and then a plus sign (+), if I click on that they show me the taxes that balloon the original airfare to its actual cost.

    Why can’t the airlines perform a comparable display for domestic travel so that the true ticket cost can be noted?

  • Michael K

    In principle, I can’t imagine how someone can justify not providing full disclosure from the point where you’re comparing prices between flights and/or airlines.

    In practice, a huge problem is that it get can get extraordinarily complicated to account for every possible fee and compare itineraries apples-to-apples. To be completely accurate, there are a huge number of questions that you need to ask the traveller which might have a price impact on at least some airlines/itineraries.

    To give one example: if I’m travelling with my son (lap child), a car seat, and a stroller, and a carry on-size bag, it can make a pretty big difference (depending on the plane/airline) whether I’m also travelling with my wife or not. And if we are travelling together on some legs but not others, that adds yet another wrinkle.

  • Dave

    Actually, I don’t see much difference between the two “required to display” choices.

    I do agree that there should be a clear way to see all the optional fees in one place. While the information is generally available now (not so sure about meal charges, other than that they exist), too often you have to go to several different pages to collect it.

    More important, though, is that the mandatory fees should be included in the quoted price. Many people argue that other retailers aren’t required to do that, blah, blah, but there is a difference — retailers in the same location collect exactly the same taxes from their customers. The mandatory collections on an airline ticket vary with your route, and the information is not nearly as easy to find as is a retail sales tax.

  • Cydonia

    There’s always room for improvement, but this is a good start. The best thing is if there weren’t so many fees to display in the first place!

  • BMG4ME

    None of your choices are good. It should display the complete price, including taxes, the first time it displays the price.

  • Emanuel Levy

    When you go to search for prices t here should be boxes to check if you want the price to contain any of the following if it’s not included in the base price

    1) One carry on bag per person in the overheard

    2) One checked bag per person up to 50 lbs

    3) Meal or Snack depending on length of flight

    4) Any fuel surcharge

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