Seven Principles to Guide Airline Consumer Protection
Travelers United, together with other consumer groups, outlined seven airline consumer protection principles to guide airline consumer protection and released them to the Washington establishment — Congress, Department of Transportation, and the President. After virtualy no response, including the exclusion of airline passengers from the original declaration of National Consumer Protection Week, the aviation consumer groups and Travelers United needed to speak out.
After many words, the only way that airline consumer protections can be experienced is thought, deeds and actions. This statement from aviation consumer groups includes seven principles to guide consumer protections.
President Trump has proclaimed this week as National Consumer Protection Week, saying it is “an opportunity for Americans to learn about their consumer rights.” Consumer groups and advocates, including the Business Travel Coalition, Travelers United, Ed Perkins, National Consumers League and Consumer Action, support US Senator Susan Collins’ (R-ME) timely legislative proposal that would help protect consumer interests. In addition, the consumer groups are outlining seven principles to guide badly needed airline consumer protections.
“Now that US airlines have secured their antitrust-immunized global alliances and joint ventures, and massively consolidated the domestic US airline industry to just four carriers controlling more than 80 percent of domestic seat capacity, they have been forcefully endeavoring to maintain their monopoly market positions and record-setting industry profits by impeding competition and reducing consumer choice,” stated Business Travel Coalition founder Kevin Mitchell.
The White House said that, “The Trump administration has put the focus of consumer protection back where it belongs: on protecting consumers and enabling them to make better decisions for themselves.” However, in order to make those decisions, travelers need access to basic, public information that the airline industry is holding back, including many of the travel resources consumers prefer and rely on.
Some US airlines have been seeking to withhold and restrict the discovery by consumers of airfare, schedule and availability information presented by metasearch platforms and some online travel sites. These airlines have reduced consumer choice by making it exceedingly more difficult to comparison shop for the best flight at the lowest price in a transparent, simple way.
The coalition of consumer groups endorses Senator Collins’ legislation to ensure that the US Department of Transportation (DOT) resumes a now-suspended Request for Information that had illuminated an airline practice of withholding travel information that is inherently anti-competitive, harmful to consumers and not in the public interest.(1)
Seven Principles to Guide Airline Consumer Protections
Travelers should be able to compare prices and purchase all of the services they will need for their flights at the time of booking, including ancillary services. Travelers (or their agents) should be able to see all of the options and fees available for a flight before travel is booked, so they can make informed decisions during the booking process.
Travelers should be able to compare prices and services among a broad range of airlines at the travel resource of their choice, and be able to compare base fares and ancillary services with the base fares and services from other airlines that sell through the same distribution channel. Choice should be driven by the traveler’s needs, and the traveler should be able to compare, contrast and choose the supplier that best meets those needs.
Travelers should have access to a robust and competitive marketplace of airlines and other travel suppliers that compete for their business on a level playing field. Both anonymous and self-identified travelers should be able compare their full range of options among airlines. The decision of a traveler not to self-identify should not result in a penalty for the traveler on price, convenience or services offered.
Innovation is driven by competition, and travelers should have a broad range of options to book their travel, ranging from airlines to online travel companies, corporate travel departments and traditional travel agencies. Each of those organizations should be able to choose and develop the technologies that best meet its needs, so long as those systems do not interfere with open, transparent pricing and consumer choice.
Travelers should be able to shop anonymously across the full range of fares and services offered by airlines. No traveler should be forced to provide personal information to receive lower prices or information on available services offered. Customization should be at the request of the traveler, not at the demand of the supplier, and travel suppliers should allow travelers to decide which additional services they would like to receive, if any, whether traveling on business or for leisure with their family.
Airline contracts should not be so one-sided as to isolate airlines from accountability. Travelers should be guaranteed an appropriate mix of refunds and compensation in the event of delays, cancellations, mishandled baggage and other flight irregularities.
Travelers should be entitled to basic consideration in real-life travel situations. Families should be seated together without having to pay extra. Fees for changing tickets should bear a reasonable relationship to costs and not be set at punitive levels.
“When Congress passes laws, DOT has the responsibility to get the rules written and the laws put into effect. Today, families are still being asked to pay extra to sit with their toddlers and baggage fees are still being collected when checked baggage is not delivered together with a passengers’ flight,” stated Travelers United president Charlie Leocha. “Both issues have been legislated by Congress more than 18 months ago. These laws are not in effect because of unacceptable DOT delays,” added Leocha.
(1) S.1655 – Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2018 – (Sec. 106) Lifts the suspension of the comment period imposed by DOT on its Request for Information titled “Exploring Industry Practices on Distribution and Display of Airline Fare, Schedule and Availability Information.” Requires DOT to accept additional public comment for 30 days after enactment of this bill.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past ten years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018. He also served on the Consumer Advocacy Subcommittee of the Transportation Security Advisory Board.