Clear Airfares Act of 2009 aims to expose hidden fees and taxes

terminal3Ever wished there was a law that forces airlines to disclose all extras on their tickets? Right up front. While you’re shopping for flights.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) apparent does, so he’s proposed bill that would do just that. The Clear Airfares Act of 2009 would ensure that before passengers are required to submit personal or payment information, they’re given a full and clear breakdown of their airfare, as well as any other possible fees that might be incurred on the flight (such as baggage, meal and pet fees).

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The proposal comes at a great time. This year, airlines have instituted a new holiday surcharge of as much as $50 per flight on the busiest travel days during the holiday season. For consumers, it requires clicking to peripheral Web pages and wading through often confusing text to understand whether or not their airfare includes these surcharges and what other taxes and fees may have been added, according to Menendez.

What’s more, he says, Americans deserve full disclosure when they buy an airline ticket.

For too long, it has been too difficult for airline passengers to figure out exactly what they are paying for when they buy a ticket.

Trying to navigate through the different components in your airfare is like an airline pilot trying to land a plane in a thunderstorm without electronic instruments or a map – it’s technically possible, but it sure isn’t easy.

What airline passengers deserve is something much simpler and clearer.

The legislation would require airlines or third-party Web sites to clearly and conspicuously disclose any fees, charges or surcharges, including holiday fees, for consumers to be able to clearly view before having to input their name and credit card information. This would include disclosure of possible fees that would be applied after the ticket is purchased. It would also limit airline fuel surcharges in a meaningful new way.

Here’s the proposed bill in its entirety:

A BILL

To amend chapter 417 of title 49, United States Code, to require air carriers and ticket agents to notify consumers of all taxes and fees applicable to airline tickets in a timely manner, to prohibit the imposition of fuel surcharges that do not correlate to the fuel costs incurred by air carriers, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Clear Airfares Act of 2009’’.

SEC. 2. NOTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS WITH RESPECT TO THE SALE OF AIRLINE TICKETS; RESTRICTIONS ON CERTAIN FUEL SURCHARGES.

(a) IN GENERAL.—Section 41712 of title 49, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

(c) NOTICE OF TAXES AND FEES APPLICABLE TO TICKETS FOR AIR TRANSPORTATION.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—It shall be an unfair or deceptive practice under subsection (a) for an air carrier, foreign air carrier, or ticket agent to sell a ticket for air transportation unless the air carrier, foreign air carrier, or ticket agent, as the case may be—

(A) displays information with respect to the taxes and fees described in paragraph (2), including the amount and a description of each such tax or fee, simultaneously with and in reasonable proximity to the price listed for the ticket; and

(B) in the case of a ticket for air transportation sold on the Internet, provides to the purchaser of the ticket information with respect to the taxes and fees described in paragraph (2), including the amount and a description of each such tax or fee, before requiring the purchaser to provide any personal information, including the name, address, phone number, email address, or credit card information of the purchaser.

(2) TAXES AND FEES DESCRIBED.—The taxes and fees described in this paragraph are all taxes, fees, and charges applicable to a ticket for air transportation, including—

(A) all taxes, fees, charges, and surcharges included in the price paid by a purchaser for the ticket, including fuel surcharges and surcharges relating to peak or holiday travel; and

(B) any fees for checked baggage, seating assignments, and optional in-flight goods and services, and other fees that may be charged after the ticket is purchased.

(d) PROHIBITION ON FUEL SURCHARGES NOT CORRELATED TO COST.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—It shall be an unfair or deceptive practice under subsection (a) for an air carrier or foreign air carrier to impose a fuel surcharge with respect to a ticket for air transportation unless the amount of the fuel surcharge correlates to the amount paid by the air carrier for fuel and to the amount of fuel used by the air carrier to provide the purchaser with such air transportation.

(2) DETERMINATIONS OF CORRELATION.—The Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, shall prescribe standards to be used in determining under paragraph (1) whether a fuel surcharge imposed by an air carrier correlates to the amount paid by the air carrier for fuel and to the amount of fuel used by the air carrier to provide air transportation.

(b) REGULATIONS.—The Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, shall prescribe such regulations as may be necessary to carry out subsections (c) and (d) of section 41712 of title 49, United States Code, as added by subsection (a) of this section.

I can’t see a “down” side for airline passengers to this proposed new rule.

(Photo: yushimoto_02/Flickr Creative Commons)

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