Despite the millions airlines poured into lobbying against it, as of yesterday the U.S. Department of Transportation has mandated that all flights operating in the U.S. must display the entire airfare up front in the booking process. If an airline advertises a sale price, it must be the real total price, not “before taxes and fees.” Since it has become routine for flights to Europe to have as much or more in fuel “surcharges” as the price of the ticket, the D.O.T. could no longer ignore the flood of consumer complaints.
Besides the honest airfare disclosure, the companies also have to make it easy for you to figure out how much you’ll have to pay to check bags, depending on your flight. All that info now has to be on one easy-to-find page and at the start of the booking screens.
Most airlines and online travel agencies acted in a civil manner this week, sending e-mails to their customers explaining not to be alarmed by higher advertised costs, that they’re just seeing it all up front now instead of having surcharges added when booking. The airline that everyone loves to hate—Spirit Airlines—took a quite different tack though. I got an e-mail from them that looked like this:
In a bout of double-speak that would make George Orwell and Lenin both proud, the company claimed that this law was all a big conspiracy to somehow hide taxes from you so the government could keep raising them. I can’t imagine even the most delusional Tea Party faithful falling for that one since any airline can break out taxes as clearly as they’d like anywhere on their website. But instead of a link to any page explaining the new law, there was just a link to go complain to your congressperson. How bizarre!
As SmarterTravel said in an article about the company’s actions, “Spirit’s overblown reaction to the government’s passenger protection rules—first legal action and now a very public advertising campaign—underscores the carrier’s reliance on a steady stream of passenger surcharges.” Here’s a fuller explanation of what they were claiming and how far removed it was from actual facts.
There are plenty of others out there who look at the airfare as just a way to get you in the door and start doubling or tripling that amount with extra fees and this law won’t help you on foreign domestic flights. So if you’re flying on Spirit’s kindred souls, like RyanAir or Aerobus, you’ll still need to take every advertised fare for what it is: a bait-and-switch gimmick. Here though, the consumers won one over the big corporate campaign contributors.