Local travel executives join fight for airline fee transparency
When it comes to air travel, it seems that each passing day witnesses the birth of a new fee for what once upon a time were benefits included in the cost of the ticket. But, for the better part of the past decade, the airline industry has been increasingly tacking on ancillary fees for nearly every “service” offered, which can inflate the price of the trip considerably, even when traveling on discount carriers.
Do you want a pillow and blanket? There could be a fee for that. Want to choose your seat in advance? You may have to pay for that too. Need to take on a carry-on bag with you? Depending on the airline, it may cost you.
On Wednesday, local travel industry executives expressed their support for the Sabre Travel Network’s “Let the Market Fly” initiative to advocate for transparency when it comes to applying fees — especially those applied without prior notice — on travel.
Members of the local chapters of the American Society of Travel Agents and the Sabre Travel Network outlined the goal behind the movement launched stateside in late February to guarantee the consumer’s continued ability to quickly and easily comparison shop for air travel.
“This is about the cost for extra baggage or its weight, food, headphones, blankets, pillows and even movies, among others,” said Daphne Barbeito, president of the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands ASTA chapter.
While some airlines are also tacking on a fee for carry-on baggage, in other cases, they are charging a fee for using a credit card to pay for tickets online.
Data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation show that last year, the aviation industry raked in more than $3.3 billion in baggage fees and another $2.38 billion in fees applied to reservation changes. In general, it is believed that additional fees for bags and other “perks” can go well beyond what it costs the airline to provide the service.
What the ASTA and the Sabre Travel Network are lobbying for is transparency regarding all of the extra fees that ultimately can bump up the price of an airline ticket, often even before boarding.
“We ask that all such fees or charges are transparent and are available, in an efficient manner, to the travel agent,” Barbeito said. “We are the intermediaries and are responsible to the customer who, by being unaware, may lack the budget to pay for those unplanned goods or services.”
If the airlines fail to disclose their rundown of fees, travel agents are prevented from providing full disclosure to customers when a ticket or package is sold, she said.
Late last month, Eben Peck, ASTA’s vice president of government affairs, urged the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection to submit a recommendation to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood that the upcoming passenger protection rulemaking include a requirement for full transparency and accountability of airline optional services and fees.
Open skies, open marketplace
Through its “Let the market fly” initiative, the Sabre Travel Network has been promoting and advancing an open marketplace for air travel, which benefits airlines, travelers and the agencies that connect them, the trade group said.
“It means that everyone who wants to buy or sell air travel products is able to do so in a marketplace where comparison shopping — i.e. competition — is real, easy and vibrant,” Sabre states on its campaign website. “Unfortunately, markets are sometimes threatened by participants who think reducing buyers’ ability to comparison shop can maximize their short-term profits.”
For Puerto Rico, the initiative takes on special importance because of the domino effect those fees have on car rental companies, cruise lines, hotels and other tourism services, said Walt Báez, general manager of Sabre’s Caribbean chapter.
“We want to ensure that the market remains open, competitive and thriving for all consumers, suppliers and travel agents,” Báez said.