The Business Travel Coalition launched a petition to urge the Obama administration to force airlines to provide ancillary fee information to all sales channels.
The petition was posted on the “We the People” platform on the White House website, which allows any American to create and post a petition on the site and collect signatures.
If the petition gathers 25,000 signatures within 30 days (by Dec. 25), it will be reviewed by a standing group of White House staff, routed to any other appropriate offices and generate an official, on-the-record response.
The White House may decline to respond to petitions that are more appropriately addressed in other venues.
The petition states that the U.S. Transportation Department “must require airlines, via a rulemaking, to provide fee information to sales channels where they offer base fares so consumers can see, compare and buy the complete air travel product.”
The BTC said its objectives for the initiative include: encouraging the White House to directly engage the hidden airline fees issue; generating press over the holiday travel period, and using the petition as a powerful consumer filing for the DOT docket when the time comes in 2013.
The DOT plans to issue its much-delayed Enhancing Passenger Protections III notice of proposed rulemaking on Nov. 30, with a public comment period through Feb. 7.
The issue has been a thorny one for the DOT, since it involves commercial agreements between GDS companies and airlines.
Fee information is not always clear-cut. Some airlines offer bundled services, either as fare families or as packaged add-ons to the base fare, which are not easily compared. For example, priority boarding might be combined with a “mileage booster” feature or a discount on itinerary changes.
“Premium seating” may mean an extra legroom seat on one carrier or a standard far-forward aisle or window seat on another.
Fees also can vary according to the customer’s status. A Gold Medallion customer on Delta, for example, can select a domestic Economy Comfort (additional legroom) seat for no additional charge and receives a 50% discount on international Economy Comfort seats.
Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the BTC, said 80% percent or more of the problem for consumers and corporate travel departments could be addressed with fee information on checked bags, advance boarding and premium seat assignments.
“That’s where the money is and where the frustration lies,” he said in an e-mail to TTU.
“Agents can determine the differences, for example, about premium seating variances, among airlines and equipment, via information in the description fields that airlines provide for ATPCO entries.”
Once agents are empowered to sell these services, “they would be motivated to learn, for example, the differences in seating attributes for their most frequently sold carriers.”
He said the ATPCO Optional Services and Branded Fares (ATPCO OC) process “has been developed, tested and implemented, and it is inexpensive for airlines to use.”
Airlines are required to post all fees on their websites, and some of the lists are lengthy. Delta devotes several web pages to its baggage policies alone, which vary by region and address everything from oversized bags to antlers.
Aside from seating, priority boarding and bags, other ancillary products “are less of an issue for consumers, and many of them are best suited to be sold at different points in the process leading up to departure,” Mitchell said.
“There will no doubt be all manner of dreamt-up new services (some commercially viable, some not so much) that just will not make sense to be sold through the agency channel enabled by the GDSs.”
If airlines are required to provide fee information to GDSs, that does not mean they will be required to allow ancillary sales in GDSs.
But although movement on that front has been sluggish, more airlines are going that route: Delta has agreed to make Economy Comfort seats available through Amadeus and Travelport, for example, and US Airways is selling its Choice Seats through Sabre.