On Dec. 7, the Department of Transportation (DOT) released a statement announcing its intention to remove two proposed rules requiring airlines to disclose ancillary fees at booking. This includes baggage fees, which pulled in approximately $1.2 billion for airlines between July and Sept.
These rules were originally proposed by the Obama administration in January 2017, but were never finalized by the new administration after President Trump took office. Now they’ve been officially withdrawn, leaving supporters frustrated and out of options.
“The Trump administration’s reckless reversal is a gift for the airlines’ bottom line – and a slap in the face for travelers who deserve clarity when buying a ticket,” tweeted Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), who has been outspoken about baggage fees in the past.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., NY) has called for the DOT to reverse its decision, and restore what he called a “commonsense passenger protection.”
Not surprisingly, Airlines for America told the Associated Press that they applaud the DOT for “recognizing that airlines, like all other businesses, need the freedom to determine which third-parties they do business with and how best to market, display and sell their products.'”
The DOT claims that its decision isn’t political at all. In its statement, the agency says the rules were withdrawn because “they are of limited public benefit.” It says the DOT already provides consumers with information about baggage fees, and that passing these policies would force airlines to incur “significant costs to implement.”
The DOT does provide customers with information about baggage fees on its recently relaunched Air Consumer website. There, it clarifies that airlines are prohibited from increasing the fee on a checked bag that is not paid for when the ticket is purchased. Still, there are no rules that require airlines to disclose all fees at booking.
For consumers, the baggage fee proposals felt like a win. Over the years, airlines have introduced an array of ancillary fees (seat selection, seat upgrade, boarding order) to make their base fares appear lower. With the proposal, airfare would have been more transparent, allowing consumers to make informed decisions – and at least know ahead of time how much their travels would truly cost, baggage fees included.
“Without clear, public data available to travel agents and on the Internet, travelers find it impossible to effectively comparison shop,” said Charles Leocha, president of Travelers United, a consumer advocacy group. “By withholding this information from normal airline ticket sales channels, the airlines are misleading consumers about the true cost of travel.”
What can consumers do?
According to Andrew Appelbaum, staff attorney at Flyers Rights, consumers have the right to speak out about unfair airline practices. Because the DOT is the only regulator for airlines, frustrated consumers can lodge complaints with the agency to voice their concerns. Complaints can be filed on the Air Consumer Protection website.
Next, fliers can speak out by making public comments during the rulemaking process. “When a new rule is proposed, the DOT must send out a notice on the federal register.” said Appelbaum. “If a consumer wants to give feedback, they can leave a comment Regulations.gov.”
If you want to investigate fees before you book, Kayak has a helpful chart with data from all airlines.
Because the proposed rules were never implemented, passengers aren’t necessarily having anything taken away from them. Still, some trade groups might argue that consumers have lost the hope that airlines will ever put their needs first.
Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance.