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Turism&Travel : MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees website launched

Tuesday 07 September 2010

A travel industry coalition is seeking to harness consumer outrage over airline bag fees.

The coalition hopes to get consumers to pressure the U.S. Transportation Dept. to mandate that airlines disclose all fees up-front — and distribute them through all channels, including global distribution systems and travel agents.

The American Society of Travel Agents, the Business Travel Coalition and the Consumer Travel Alliance unveiled a website,, with a petition supporting their aims, and a plan to present the petitions to the DOT Sept. 25, a date they've designated as “Mad As Hell Day.”

As the DOT has been considering a new rule about airline fee disclosures, the coalition's petition endorses “efforts to require airlines to make their fees fully and easily accessible to both consumers and intermediaries in the travel industry, so travelers can compare prices and know in advance how much their trips will cost.”

“Requiring the airlines to make all of their fees electronically available through all booking channels will unleash the creativity of the online medium and the full support of traditional travel agents to help travelers search, find and compare air travel costs and services across the full spectrum of airlines,” the petition says.

Although a coalition survey [pdf], answered by subscribers to pro-consumer travel newsletters, found widespread outrage about hidden fees, but also opposition to the fees themselves, the coalition does not oppose the fees.

Currently, many airlines offer bag and other fees only through their own websites, call centers and ticket counters, and while some distribute optional services through the GDSs, others have begun to distribute them through Farelogix — outside of the GDS world.

“We are not opposed to the fees,” says Paul Ruden, ASTA's senior vice president, legal and industry affairs. “The law allows the airlines to do this. No one likes paying extra fees, [but] the law allows them to do it and we need the airlines to have a viable industry.”

Ruden says the coalition hopes to elevate public awareness about the hidden-fees problem and to gather signatures calling on the DOT to mandate that airlines make the fees transparent and distribute these unbundled services through the GDSs.

The GDS trade association, the Interactive Travel Services Association, is not a named member of the coalition even though the coalition's goal of forcing the airlines to distribute ancillary services through the GDSs perfectly aligns with GDS goals.

“I'm sure they are interested in it,” Ruden says, referring to Sabre, Amadeus and Travelport GDS. “We have a relationship with ITSA that is well-known and the GDSs are part of it. But, for the purposes of this campaign, it's the three groups, Consumer Travel Alliance, ASTA and the Business Travel Coalition.”

Ruden acknowledges that some of the consumer concern “is just about the damn fees. That's not our issue.”

The published questions in the consumer survey do not query opinion about whether airlines should distribute optional services through GDSs and travel agencies, a main goal of the coaliton.

One coalition member, The Consumer Travel Alliance, is a nonprofit that lobbies regulators and Congress about travel issues impacting the consumer.

CTA has “a couple of hundred” members and about 35,000 people subscribe to its newsletters, says President Charlie Leocha.

The principals of CTA are Leocha, journalist Christopher Elliott, and author and privacy advocate Edward Hasbrouck.

Leocha says CTA, ASTA and BTC came together in August 2009 to back an amendment, offered by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. The amendment would have mandated airline fee disclosure at the time of purchase.

Travel agents want the transparency so they can offer airline content and make transactions, corporations want to account for ancillary services, and consumers want to compare prices, Leocha says, explaining that the three groups in the coalition have complementary goals.

“We are trying to ride this transparency bus,” Leocha says, adding that the coalition hopes to collect “tens of thousands” of signatures to present to the DOT.

He adds that the coalition discussed the issue of opposing the fees, but decided against it.

“It's hard to put the genie back in the bottle,” Leocha says. “They've been out there for years in Europe with the Ryanair model. The fees are here to stay.”

Ruden says the coalition hopes to get TV airtime with its initiative and to push its campaign through social media.

There is a MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees YouTube channel, but chances are good that the channel's first video won't go viral any time soon.

Here's the group's first video.

Ruden says the DOT has pledged to complete its rule-making process before the end of the year.

He's hopeful that the “new DOT,” which implemented pro-consumer rules about airline tarmac delays, also will take appropriate action about airline fee disclosures.

Autor: eTurboNews
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