Consumer Group Says Survey Points To Need For DOT Action To Assure Full Disclosure Of Travel Costs
The aviation consumer advocacy group Open Allies for Airfare Transparency has released the results of a summer 2012 travel experiences survey, conducted online by market research firm Harris Interactive among 2,310 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. The survey found that 94% of Americans who recently used an online travel company (OTC) to book their travel this summer agreed that "All airline fee information should be available to travel agents and online travel websites."
In addition, 95% of Americans who used an OTC to book their summer travel agreed with the statement "It would be easier to comparison shop if all airline fee information was available on online travel websites and to travel agents."
"These results should be a wake-up call for the Department of Transportation," said David Kelly, executive director of Open Allies. "Consumers do not like to be held captive by the airline industry, whether stuck on the runway or shopping for a summer vacation. The survey data demonstrates that consumers expect airlines to share fees in a transparent and purchasable format in all the channels where they sell their fares, and if the airlines will not do this on their own, then the Department of Transportation should exercise its authority to require it."
While online travel sites are required to disclose a list of baggage fees charged by airlines, the airlines are not required to fully disclose various charges such as checked baggage or preferred seat assignment fees in a way that allows consumers to shop and compare the all-in price (fares+taxes+fees) or to actually purchase those ancillary products or services, such as seat assignments for a family that wishes to sit together. An expected federal rulemaking to address this flaw in the airline distribution process is being considered by the U.S. DOT.
As a result of the airlines' continued refusal to share this information, 31% of Americans who used an online travel site to book their travel agreed with the statement that they "paid for fees that were not fully disclosed when I initially purchased my ticket for my flight this summer." That translates to more than 5 million Americans who were surprised by and forced to pay hidden airline fees after purchase of the ticket or during the transportation process.
"Millions of travelers should not have to experience the frustration of unexpected fees because the airlines refuse to share this information with online travel sites and travel agents," said Kelly.
There is also good news for the airlines in the survey's results: not only do Americans want airline fee information to be available to online travel sites and travel agents, they also indicated they would likely purchase these services if they were available through those channels. In fact, 57% of Americans who used an OTC to book their summer travel agreed that they would "purchase additional services (e.g., extra leg room, early boarding, checked bags) if the airline fees for these services were available through online travel websites and travel agents."
Finally, when asked an open ended question why they supported having airline fee information available to online travel sites and travel agents, Americans gave a number of common sense responses including:
- To know the total cost up front
- No unexpected expenses
- Dislike hidden fees/charges
- Ability to compare airlines/fees
- So consumers can know exactly what they're paying for
- To get the best deal
- To make informed decisions
"These survey results clearly show that consumers are being harmed because the airlines are refusing to share fee information with popular online travel sites and travel agents which account for more than 50% of all travel booked in the U.S.," said Charles Leocha, founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance. "There's simply no excuse for the airlines to keep consumers in the dark about the total cost of their travel. That's why it's time for the DOT to step in and restore the ability for true comparison shopping by requiring the airlines to share fee information with online travel sites and travel agents."