This Congressman wants to make booking a flight more confusing

Here are some facts:

  • Bill Shuster is a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania
  • He’s the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House of Representatives
  • He is the largest recipient of donations from Airlines for America, an airline industry lobby
  • In 2014, he authored HB 4156 which was titled “Transparent Airfares Act of 2014”, which rolled back the Department of Transportation’s popular ruling which forced airlines to advertise the full cost of an airfare (meaning they must include taxes and fees in their ads)
  • The bill passed the House of Representatives but nothing was done to the bill in the Senate so it never was signed into law
  • It later came to light (according to the media, whatever that’s worth these days) that Shuster was dating Shelley Rubino, a vice president for Airlines for America, at the time the bill was being considered
  • In 2017 Rep. Shuster is bringing this legislation back as part of a much bigger bill, HR 2997, the 21st Century Airract
  • The stated objective of this part of the bill (from the media materials of the bill) is that the regulation, “Ensures airlines are transparent with respect to government-imposed taxes and fees that will be added to the base fare of a ticket, so the consumer knows exactly what they will be paying.”
  • There is absolutely nothing that prevents airlines from transparently displaying government-opposed taxes and fees as part of the full cost of an airfare right now

Here are some opinions about those facts:

This part of the bill is a loser.  It smells of rank corruption by Shuster.  The logic they use to justify it is stupid.  And the average consumer will be worse off because of it.

I contacted my congressman back in 2014 to voice my displeasure with the bill.  The bill passed by a voice vote, which meant nobody cared about it enough to actually vote so they just asked an empty room if anyone objected and nobody said anything so it’s presumed to have passed.

The congressman’s Transportation analyst engaged in friendly discussion with me and brought up a point that hotels and car rental agencies were allowed to only display their cost, after which taxes and fees would be added in.

Newsflash: airfares are taxed at the federal level, hotels and car rentals are at the state, county, and city level.  The proper metaphor they need to look at is with gasoline: if the average consumer filled up for $2.50/gallon only to go in to pay for their gas and find out that the actual price was $2.684/gallon, they would claim shenanigans and would Twitter with all sorts of emojis.

I’m not making this about Republicans versus Democrats.  No matter how I vote, if a bill is a piece of garbage I want you to know about it.

You want to know how bad it is?  As I wrote in 2014, Spirit Airlines (an airline everyone loves to hate) does an incredible job telling you how much in taxes you are paying for every single trip, despite advertising the full price of the ticket.  They even calculate the effective tax rate you’re paying!

Other elements of the 21st Century Airract are necessary and innovative but there was no reason to include loser legislation like this as part of a much more serious piece of legislation.

Contact your representatives if you have an opinion about this, in my opinion there is just no reason to roll back such a consumer-friendly rule.

4 Comments

  1. This article does not make sense. How is displaying the full price of a ticket not helpful to the consumer?

    Reply
    • I agree completely. That’s how it works right now. This new regulation will allow airlines to go back to the way things were before 2012, so they’ll be able to say “Bahamas from $399!” and then when you get to the payment screen it jumps to $521 or whatever.

      Reply
      • Makes sense now. Thanks! I looked the bill up on other sources to confirm. I got slightly confused by the wording in your article. It’s a silly bill for sure. Comparing to hotels isn’t really a good comparison because taxes and fees on hotels are not nearly the same percentage of total cost that they can be on airfare, particularly transatlantic tickets. Hopefully it won’t pass!

        Reply
  2. I agree this is bad. Hotels (resort fees and taxes) need to be sold as airline tickets are. Rental car companies (to many fees to add up) also need the type of transparency that airlines have on fares.

    Reply

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