Why Airlines Will Get To Keep Hiding Baggage Fees?

Round and round. Photo Credit: David Goldman / AP

Until a few days ago, a rule proposed under the Obama administration would force airlines to tell you at every step what baggage fees they’re charging you. The idea could have ended the frustratingly common occurrence of booking a ticket thinking you got a deal, only to find out afterward that you’re going to have to pay extra for your luggage. It could have made it easier to compare prices across airlines, since they could no longer sneak those fees in separately from your ticket price.

The Trump administration has now pulled that proposal.

In a notice (pdf) filed Dec. 5, the Department of Transportation withdrew the proposed rule, saying it is “committed to protecting consumers from hidden fees and to ensuring transparency,” but that it doesn’t need to take any action at this stage to do that. “The Department’s existing regulations already provide consumers some information regarding fees for ancillary services,” it stated.

The claim is debatable. Airline fees can be so confusing that there are apps to navigate them. The fees are huge money makers, too: last year, airlines pulled in a record $7.1 billion in fees for baggage and flight changes.

Some feel the fees have gotten so out of hand they’ve been trying to put an end to them with legislation. In 2016, Democratic senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced the FAIR Act (pdf), which stands for “Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous Fees.” It would prohibit airlines from charging disproportionately high fees for services such as checking bags or switching a flight.

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In a press release at the time, Markey noted that three of the eight airline carriers looked into by the US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee had raised their checked baggage fees by 67% between 2009 and 2014.

“Today’s action allows airlines to continue to confuse consumers and stick them with ridiculous fees from take-off to touchdown,” Markey, Blumenthal, and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren said in a joint statement. “This might be a great day for the airlines’ bottom line, but it is a sad one for travelers who deserve transparency when buying an airline ticket.”

But the Trump administration, as The Hill reported, said the proposed rule would have “limited public benefit.”


This feature originally appeared in Quartz.

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