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ASTA welcomes ACACP’s transparency position

ASTA has welcomed the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protection’s (ACACP) recently-issued report to the Secretary of Transportation, but pledges to continue its efforts to ensure that an upcoming DOT rulemaking provides consumers and travel agents full access to airline ancillary fees and services. Nina Meyer, president and chief executive officer of ASTA, commented: “ASTA has long advocated on behalf of its members for transparency and transactability in airline ancillary fees, including testimony before this committee, and as such is pleased that their recommendations include strong language on the subject. While we wish they had gone farther, considering the makeup of the committee, its calls for transparency in air carrier pricing and its expectation that consumers should expect to know the cost of the entire trip before purchasing a ticket represent an exceptional outcome.” ASTA said that the committee’s recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation, released late last week, run the gamut of air consumer issues from service to disabled passengers, to discrimination based on race and religion, to consumer complaints, to ancillary fees and disclosures on online travel agencies and others as to which carriers they sell. Of most interest to ASTA members, the committee recommended the following, which will be the subject of a January 2013 DOT rulemaking: Transparency: The committee recommended that the Secretary ensure transparency in air carrier pricing, including ancillary fees. Further, the committee noted that “innovation that makes [airfare] comparison shopping easier than it is today would benefit the public,” and called for all participants in the distribution system to be guided by certain principles, including that consumers should expect “to know the cost of the entire trip before purchasing a ticket.” Ticket Agent Disclosures: The committee recommended that DOT “should require all ticket agents, including online ticket agents, to disclose the fact that they do not offer for sale all airlines’ tickets and that additional airlines may serve the route being searched.” All ticket agents, including online ticket agents, the committee recommended, “should make this disclosure clearly and conspicuously, so that consumers know they may need to search elsewhere if they want to find out all available air travel options.” ASTA has addressed this issue independently with DOT and plans to do so again in light of committee’s recommendation. The disclosure issue is vastly more complicated than appears on the surface and there are many potential unintended consequences that need to be considered before DOT adopts such a rule. ASTA is not alone in its fight for transparency and transactability in airline ancillary fees, including testifying before the ACACP. Over the past few months, the committee heard from a large number of travel industry and consumer groups — suppliers, distributors, corporate travel managers, public interest groups and the public at large. With the exception of the airlines and their industry associations, virtually every credible commenter who addressed the issue shared ASTA’s goal of ancillary fee transparency and transactability. These voices were heard loud and clear, not just by this advisory committee, but more importantly by the DOT staff who are in the midst of formulating a rulemaking on ancillary fees.

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