Thursday, 5 October 2006

No change in USA rules for airfare advertising

The USA Department of Transportation (DOT) has formally withdrawn its proposal to revise its rules for advertising of airline ticket prices. (Thanks to Christopher Elliott for noticing the obscure notice in the Federal Register.)

The good news is that the DOT has abandoned — at least for now — its plan to exempt airlines and travel agencies from the limited existing Federal truth-in-advertising rules. That’s especially significant because airlines are already entirely exempt from state and local truth-in-advertising and other fraud and consumer protection laws.

The bad news is that the DOT has decided to continue its policy of exercising “prosecutorial discretion” not to actually enforce the current rules, particularly when required fees or “surcharges” aren’t included in advertised prices. Since the designation of part of the price as the “base fare” and part as a “surcharge” is entirely unregulated and at the discretion of the airlines, airlines will continue to be allowed to advertise arbitrarily and misleadingly low prices, simply by designating the remainder of the price as a surcharge.

Already, airline-imposed surcharges —- not taxes, mind you, and neither imposed by nor passed on to any government — exceed US$100 per person per flight on some long-haul international routes.

The DOT specifically acknowledged my comments and those of the National Association of Attorneys General , the National Consumers League , and more than 500 individual travellers, all opposed to the proposal and in favor of enforcement of the current rules. Your outraged voices, in response to publicity in my column and elsewhere, made a difference in getting the government to back off from the excess of “deregulation” that they had intended.

Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 5 October 2006, 16:55 ( 4:55 PM)
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