UPDATED: US Airways sends a weekly e-mail newsletter to its employees and the media that is usually innocuous and, I suppose, accurate. But today's edition includes a seriously misleading piece of airline-management propaganda about the recent campaign for federal regulation of airline fees that should not go unchallenged. Here verbatim is what the "About US" newsletter said in a Q and A section:
Q. Over the past couple of weeks there has been a wave of news coverage about a website dubbed "Mad As Hell About Hidden Airline Fees." What does this mean?
"A. The website is run by a combination of customer advocacy groups and offers consumers a petition to sign and voice their concern to the Department of Transportation (DOT) over airline fees and transparency in ticket prices. Some industry experts suggest the real instigators of the "Mad As Hell" website and media campaign are the Global Distribution System (GDS) providers who power the industry's computerized reservations systems. These firms may claim they want consumers to have greater transparency, but they are ultimately motivated by the cash that will come their way if the DOT forces airlines to list their fees (for things like bags and preferred seats) with the GDS firms.
We understand that no one likes change -- especially when you're accustomed to getting something for free. The a la carte business model that US Airways and other airlines have implemented over the past couple years allows customers to pay for what they choose to use when booking travel, at the airport and in the air."
That's the end of the About US answer. Here are the facts, folks: The three groups that sponsored this campaign -- the Business Travel Coalition, the American Society of Travel Agents and the Consumer Travel Alliance -- thought it up themselves. I first spoke to officials from the first two groups about the problem last fall, for both a Winging It column that appeared in print and a travel-trade publication that I also write for. This is an especially serious problem for corporate travel managers who track expenses of their companies' employees; they are having a devil of a time determining how much they're really spending with airlines when the fees are added to ticket prices once a business trip is underway.
The campaign (and it's actually www.MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com
without the word airline in it) reflects the anger that customers have toward most airlines today. The GDSs referred to may eventually get some cash for displaying the fees, but that's not who's behind the effort, despite what some "industry experts," also known as shills, may suggest.
The campaign wound up sending the names of 300 companies and groups (the first company to sign was one called Walmart Stores Inc.) and more than 50,000 consumers to DOT, asking for regulation of the way fees are displayed by the airlines so that they're transparent before a ticket is bought. Those signatories said "enough," I can't figure out what I'm going to pay anymore before I buy a icket, and if the airlines that charge fees won't make them clear, the government should force them to do it.
The most annoying and misleading aspect of what US Airways is telling its people today is in the second paragraph of the newsletter answer, regarding the "a la carte business model" of charging for things that used to be in the fare. None of those services were "free" in the past. They were included in the ticket price. Now they are separate and airlines should stop prevaricating in that way, too.