Consumer Group Conveys Appreciation to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins for Effort to Improve Airfare Transparency and Competition

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Air Travel Fairness denounces airline industry’s false and deceptive campaign; Says some consumers and businesses will pay more and get less with legislation pulled

The Air Travel Fairness Coalition, an alliance representing 70,000 consumers and endorsed by the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), The Travel Technology Association (Travel Tech) and Travelers United, today expressed its appreciation to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine for her attempts to improve airfare transparency and competition, which is essential for travelers to be able to choose from all airfares and schedules, and for a healthy, truly competitive, free market economy to function.

Sen. Collins introduced legislation included in the U.S. Senate Appropriations Bill, which was passed by the U.S. Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee, and later passed by the full U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation to lift a suspension on a US Department of Transportation (DOT) request for information (RFI) on the airline industry’s ticket “distribution,” or sales practices.

Despite widespread support from consumer and business groups, public surveys and polls, and growing bi-partisan support in both houses of Congress, Sen. Collins’ legislation was withdrawn from the Appropriations bill at the request of the U.S. airline industry – prior to it going to the full House of Representatives for a vote on March 22 – denying Americans a voice through their duly elected representatives.

“We appreciate Sen. Collins’ attempt to consider consumers’ concerns in a legislative process that increasingly serves nothing other than the interests of the largest U.S. airlines,” said Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director of the Air Travel Fairness Coalition. “While the airline industry did everything they could during the past 18 months to impede and stamp out an entirely reasonable request for information on transparency and rights for consumers – with a constant drumbeat of misrepresentations and patently false information – Sen. Collins showed that Congress had the potential to respond to the needs of the many, not just the powerful few."

“Unfortunately, once again, Sen. Collins’ efforts to do the right thing were thwarted by powerful corporate interests,” Ebenhoch added. “We hope Sen. Collins continues to push for consumer protections and can eventually convince her colleagues to support her efforts.”

Despite the improving economy and record airline profits, carriers have been aggressively blocking the display of publicly available airfares and flight schedules on independent travel websites popular with many consumers. These anti-competitive practices have made it continually more difficult for consumers to compare all airline, flight and airfare choices.

Today, travelers face few choices in an airline industry that has consolidated into a four-carrier oligopoly controlling more than 81 percent of U.S. seat capacity, reducing competition and using their dominant market power to drive record profits even higher at the expense of the consumers, businesses and communities that have nowhere else to turn.

Airline lobbying group denies the public the facts, falsely describes legislation:

The airline industry continues to falsely describe an RFI – which by its very name and definition is a request for information – as “a proposal to regulate.” Not one part of the DOT’s RFI says anything about a trigger of any new regulations or legislation. The RFI is nothing more than a fact-finding mission, and if the airline industry was truly confident in its position, it would welcome a long overdue public policy discussion on this subject instead of making decisions unilaterally, solely based on its own interests.

The RFI was initiated in 2016 after a group of travel stakeholders raised concerns with the DOT. DOT did not rush to legislate or regulate. Instead, it took the prudent, reasonable action of requesting information and facts, a process that airlines have blocked at every single turn.

“From the outset, our singular focus has been on the public having full access to publicly available fare and schedule information,” said Ebenhoch. “As the industry well knows, publishing information online is different from ticketing it, and we’ve never advocated for forced business relationships or fees. We’ve always maintained that those are decisions between the airlines and the shrinking number of independent travel service providers that can afford to do business with airlines as they demand more and more from innovative small- and medium-sized businesses that used to be genuinely treated as ‘partners.’”

Airline rhetoric contradicts facts, logic and results of studies and surveys:

Whether it be to the public or to Congress, Airlines for America (A4A) continues to make statements that defy logic and fact, such as:

  • “Competition is intense” at a time when there is less competition at any time since deregulation. The airlines would have us believe that the fact that there are fewer than half as many competitors as there were a decade ago has actually enhanced, not reduced, competition
  • “Fares are down,” ignoring the fact that consumers are now paying for an array of air travel basics that used to be included in the price of a ticket, such as checking a bag, carrying on more than one bag, sitting in a seat other than a center seat in the rear of the aircraft, buying a ticket from a live human being instead of over the internet, pre-assigning a seat, redeeming frequent flyer miles, meals and many other services
  • “Never been a better time to fly,” a sentiment that, other than the laudable improvements made in the safety of air travel, falls well short of ringing true to most American travelers

“Repeating these false claims doesn’t make them true, and the alternative universe A4A describes is unrecognizable to the majority of American travelers crammed into small seats on packed flights that are continuously surrendering their credit cards to the airlines,” said Ebenhoch.

“Of all of the industry’s exaggerated claims, none rings hollow more than the claim that airlines are the stewards of ‘high standards of transparency and customer service,’” Ebenhoch said. “A4A has the audacity to make this baseless claim at the same time it has a long wish list actively pending before the DOT to eliminate reasonable service protections, and has single-handedly killed efforts to improve transparency at every turn, including with this bill.

“With all due respect, consumers who rely on independent third parties to comparison shop for travel are not interested in ‘high standards of customer service standards’ rhetoric from an industry with a recurring history of delay- and cancellation-causing software failures, bungling the transportation of pets, crew scheduling problems, labor strife, hidden expenses, exorbitant change fees and overbooking practices that resulted in the violent removal of a passenger who refused to surrender the seat he paid for and was given because of the airline’s inability to manage its operation, to name just a few.”

About The Air Travel Fairness Coalition

Air Travel Fairness, comprised of more than 70,000 travelers, as well as consumer and business organizations, believes increased, genuine transparency is good for American families, good for the economy and good for competition. For more information, visit http://www.airtravelfairness.org.

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Kurt Ebenhoch
@AirFairness
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