Thursday, April 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Misleading attacks on new air ticket cost rules

An issue in the news the last week or so needs some additional perspective, and some response to misleading statements that airlines and polticians have been making. This is some of what I promised yesterday that I would add perspective to: The new DOT rules requiring airlines to include taxes and fees when it advertises fares or gives you a ticket cost on their own or online travel agency Web sites. By telling us only the total cost of a ticket, fare, tax and fees included, critics say airlines now can "hide" the taxes within air fares, enabling the "government" to raise taxes without taxpayers' knowledge. This is a bogus argument for at least two reasons.

Misleading attacks on new air ticket cost rules

An issue in the news the last week or so needs some additional perspective, and some response to misleading statements that airlines and polticians have been making. This is some of what I promised yesterday that I would add perspective to: The new DOT rules requiring airlines to include taxes and fees when it advertises fares or gives you a ticket cost on their own or online travel agency Web sites. By telling us only the total cost of a ticket, fare, tax and fees included, critics say airlines now can "hide" the taxes within air fares, enabling the "government" to raise taxes without taxpayers' knowledge. This is a bogus argument for at least two reasons.

Look at airline Web sites and you can see each carrier has a choice how it displays the real, full cost of a ticket when you are searching for a trip. I did a hypothetical PHL-Chicago ORD trip in two weeks on US Airways site and other searches on the Delta, United and Spirit sites. US Airways broke down the fare and taxes and fees that were part of the ticket in two lines, and then added them up for you to give you the full cost. Clean, simple, easy-to-understand.

On the other sites, I got the full cost of the ticket just fine, but had to keep going to additional steps in the booking process to find the breakdown of fare from taxes and fees. So if this is a big concern to you as a customer, use the US Airways site to research fares and you can easily see what the two components of a ticket price are. I will continue researching how online agencies, such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, do it.

The linked story above, about proposed legislation to return to the old rules, allowing airlines to advertise only the fare without taxes, has a funny (in the ridculous sense) statement by Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), sponsor of the legislation. He asserted that by combining the elements in one number that "hides" the taxes, he fears it will be easier for the "government" to raise the taxes without the public's knowledge. Of course, the only way for the taxes to go up (or down) is for a branch of the government, also known as Congress, including Mr. Graves if he's attending, to vote for them. Don't worry, sir, if taxes need to be raised and an administration or other members of Congress propose something, the airlines will lobby you extensively and bombard the public with the message that you should vote against it, as they did last fall when the administration wanted to raise the fee to pay for security.

In the meantime, let us know if you think the new rules are helpful or not in understanding what you would pay for a ticket before you buy.  

Tom Belden
About this blog
Tom Belden has been reporting about Philadelphia International Airport and other air travel subjects for more than 20 years, writing columns for The Inquirer's Travel and Business sections. His reporting (with colleague Craig McCoy) on baggage handling problems in Philadelphia have been credited with helping to improve the system. His previous blog was called Road Warrior. He can reached at tbelden@phillynews.com. Reach Tom at tbelden@phillynews.com.

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