By Robert McGarvey
Call Ed Markey the senator from La Mancha. That is because he has launched an assault on airline fees, in legislation called the FAIR Fees Act, aka Forbid Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous Fees Act.
The backdrop of course is that airlines are getting fat imposing niggling fees on passengers. They pulled in over $5 billion in fees – for things like bag check – in just the first three quarters of 2015.
It sets a bad precedent too. Greedy hoteliers of course are racing to slap us in the face with resort fees – even when you are staying at, well, a resort. Or – worse – when you are staying at a city hotel with no obvious resort features. They really just want the $20 to $40 per day they believe they can squeeze out of us, mainly because they are envious of the airlines profits.
Markey of course is following in the footsteps of Senator Claire McCaskill who has been driving legislation to end resort fees.
Markey – cleverly – is trying to leverage debate off the present Senate discussions about reauthorizing the FAA. Some pro-consumer language already has made its way into the bill (e.g., requiring airlines to refund baggage fees when the gear arrives late).
But Markey wants more. His legislation’s intent: if enacted it “prohibits airlines from imposing fees, including cancellation, change and bag fees, that are not reasonable and proportional to the costs of the services provided.” The legislation also directs the Department of Transportation to review any other fees charged by airlines.
Markey stated his case: “Airlines fees are as high as the planes passengers are traveling on, and it’s time to stop their rapid ascent. In recent years, fees and ticket prices have gone up despite the fact that gas prices and airline choices have gone down. Airlines should not be allowed to overcharge captive passengers just because they need to change their flight or have to check a couple of bags. There is no justification for charging consumers a $200 fee to resell a $150 ticket that was cancelled well in advance. The FAIR Fees Act puts a stop to this fee gouging and will help ensure passengers are flying the fair and friendly skies.”
The text of the bill is here.
Note: Markey is not going after the ridiculous fees charged by airlines for bad food and drink in coach. Or the anemic WiFi. At least not now.
The bill very specifically states its targets: “(1) any fee for a change or cancellation of a reservation for a flight in interstate air transportation; (2) any fee relating to checked baggage to be transported on a flight in interstate air transportation; and (3) any other fee imposed by an air carrier relating to a flight in interstate air transportation.”
Nor does the bill say airlines cannot charge for such things. Just that charges have to be reasonable.
Markey by the way is not alone. His co-sponsor is Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut. Said Blumenthal, “This measure will ground the soaring, gouging fees that contribute to airlines’ record profits and passengers’ rising pain. With all the frills of flying already gone, airlines are increasingly resorting to nickel and diming consumers with outrageous fees. These runaway charges are anti-consumerism at its worst – in some cases doubling passenger fares despite plummeting fuel costs and soaring airline profits. A parent who wants to sit with his young child, a customer who wants to check or carry on a bag, or have Wi-Fi, or a traveler who needs to change or cancel a reservation should not incur exorbitant, unnecessary fees on the whim of an airline.”
The National Consumers League has weighed in on Markey’s side. Said the NCL: “Industry consolidation, cheap fuel, packed planes, and a never-ending list of fees have combined to drive airline industry profits to historic levels,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL executive director. “Now it’s time for the full Senate to step in and ensure that the industry’s profits are not coming at the expense of consumers’ safety and pocketbooks.”
Will this bill be enacted into law? Not likely with the present Congress. But come January 2017 things may look different.
We can also hope for – and push for – more transparency in pricing. I don’t want to tell a resort it cannot charge $25 for pool towels. But what pretty much all travelers object to are surprise, undisclosed fees.
The same principle applies to airline fees. Can airlines charge for a ticket change? Sure. But be transparent and keep the upcharge nominal. We’ll all be happier.
And won’t that be a change for airplane passengers.