Friday, 8 December 2017

U.S. Dept. of Transportation ends review of airline truth-in-advertising rules

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT or USDOT) announced that it has terminated two ongoing “rulemaking” proceedings related to disclosure and transparency of airline fees, and withdrawn its proposal for rules which would have required airlines “to disclose baggage fee information to consumers when fare and schedule information is provided”.

As my friend Charlie Leocha of Travelers United notes in his apt denunciation of DOT’s abdication of any effort to protect consumers against bait-and-switch airline price advertising:

This withdrawn rulemaking was created to allow airline consumers to determine the full cost of travel, including airfare as well as ancillary fees together with their exceptions and exemptions. Without clear, public data available to travel agents and on the Internet, travelers find it impossible to effectively comparison shop. By withholding this information from normal airline ticket sales channels, the airlines are misleading consumers about the true cost of travel.

This rulemaking has been in play for half-a-decade with thousands of pages of testimony and comments from consumers and all travel stakeholders. The claim that this rulemaking is “of limited public benefit” is simply not true.

It’s not as though DOT has been aggressively protecting consumers. DOT has been dragging its feet, studying and collecting comments on whether additional rules were necessary to protect airline consumers against deceptive advertising since 2011 without finalizing the necessary regulations. But now DOT has officially abandoned any consideration of such rules.

In theory, the existing DOT regulations regarding truth in airline advertising and fare transparency, as well as Federal laws giving the DOT exclusive responsibility for policing deceptive airline practices, remain on the books. But DOT’s withdrawal of its proposed rules on ancillary fee disclosure is a signal that DOT’s already grossly inadequate enforcement of existing laws protecting airline ticket purchasers will become even more lax. Caveat emptor.

As I’ve noted in another context, President Trump campaigned on a platform of rolling back Federal regulations, including rules to protect consumers. Trump is the former owner of a (failed and bankrupt) airline, and he appointed Carl Icahn, his fellow billionaire and the former owner of another bankrupt airline, as his special advisor on repeal of “excessive regulation”. Icahn resigned less than a year later in the face of allegations of conflict of interest for which he is now under investigation by Federal prosecutors. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Trump’s program for deregulation, as planned in consultation with Icahn, includes putting an end to any effort to protect consumers against deceptive practices by airline owners such as Trump and Icahn.

DOT’s determination not to address this issue through administrative rulemaking is, as Travelers United notes, a clear indication of the need for Congressional action:

It is time for Congress to get involved. If DOT, tasked with protecting the American public from misleading and deceptive practices, will not act, Congress must….

If DOT will not act, the current system must be abandoned and airline consumers should be provided the same rights of all other consumers — the right to petition their local courts for justice.

That would require repealing Federal preemption of state and local consumer protection and truth-in-advertising laws as applied to airlines and airline ticket agencies. I’ve been talking about this in print for almost 20 years; it was at the top of my Federal airline consumer protection agenda eight years ago, as the Obama administration was setting its course; and it remains so today as the Trump administration is putting into effect its thoroughgoing opposition to consumer protection with respect to airlines or other businesses.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 8 December 2017, 15:07 ( 3:07 PM)
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