Airlines vs Passengers : A Win for Passengers (and the DoT)

A rare but appreciated victory for passengers in the ongoing battles between airlines and passengers.

Good news for us.

New regulations introduced by the DoT require airlines to show the total price of a ticket in the advertising, inclusive of all taxes and fees.  Other provisions of the new regulations require airlines to allow people to cancel a reservation within 24 hours of making it, without penalty, as long as the reservation was made more than a week prior to the travel date, and forbid airlines from increasing the cost of a ticket once it has been fully paid for.

These are far from life-changing tweaks to the way airlines impose their business practices on us, but all three points are definitely fair and appreciated.  But they were not appreciated so much by the airlines, even though all three points merely enshrine what, for most airlines, until only a few years ago, used to be normal accepted policies and procedures.

Two airlines – Spirit and Southwest (an airline that makes a big deal out of being supposedly passenger-friendly) were so upset at these new requirements that they appealed their introduction all the way to the US Court of Appeals.  Their appeal was denied earlier this week, and the new provisions are to take effect.

It is interesting to see how the two airlines responded to their lost appeal.

Brad Hawkins, a Southwest spokesman, said

While we’re disappointed in the court’s decision, it really doesn’t further impact us

which rather begs the question – if it is of such little importance to you (as indeed, it truly is and should be) why were you one of only two airlines to appeal the introduction of these new provisions?

Even airlines with little apparent interest in ‘best practice’ customer relations seemed happy to accept the DoT provisions.  But not Southwest.

As for Spirit, an airline that has never aggressively wrapped itself in a mantle of customer-friendliness, spokeswoman Misty Pinson said

American consumers are going to pay more for air travel and have less choice, as the (transportation department) continues to pile costly new rules onto an already over-regulated and over-taxed industry.

Apparently Misty Pinson has no memory of the airline industry when it truly was over-regulated; and rather than appreciating the deregulation since 1979 – deregulation without which her own airline would not exist at all, she prefers to make empty nonsensical statements that she might think sound good but which mean nothing.

Perhaps she’d like to tell us exactly how costly the requirement is to show the total fare in advertisements – something the airlines used to do without quibble or concern.  How costly is it to refund a ticket within 24 hours of it being booked – until recently most airlines would do a 24 hr courtesy hold quite happily, and without any need for regulation?  How costly is it to not increase the cost of an airfare after the ticket has been sold and fully paid for – again, something that airlines, formerly, would never dream of doing.

Until she is prepared to backup her empty allegations with solid facts, she deserves to be treated with the same disdain she apparently shows for the truth.

4 thoughts on “Airlines vs Passengers : A Win for Passengers (and the DoT)”

  1. I have not researched in great detail, but how can an airline show ” the total price of a ticket in the advertising, inclusive of all taxes and fees” and include things such as bags fees if it does not know how many bags are being checked?

    Does this mean they have to show multiple lines of “total cost” – ie. with 0 bags, 1 bag, 2 bags, etc. Same goes with Southwest “Early Bird”. And what about other “fees” such as internet access (or is that a purchase??).

    I would guess the real discount airlines such as Allegient that have lots of fees will be confusing. Of course, I flew Ryan Air in Europe and most fees were available for purchase in advance, including bags of various weights, or else much higher if you waited until you were at the ticket counter.

  2. Hi, Mike

    Actually, this current requirement only requires disclosure of government taxes, fuel surcharges, and such fees. Luggage fees, meal fees, preferred seating, advanced boarding, all those sorts of other charges are somewhat discretionary and not covered by this rule, making it all the more surprising that the airlines objected to it.

    There are other proposals afoot to make the airlines provide some sort of up-front disclosure about all their other fees, but that is a different thing.

  3. There are two reasons, one political and one commercial, for Spirit and Southwest to be disappointed at the Appeal Court’s ruling. The political reason – the ruling increases government regulation over the airline industry, which the airlines in general want to avoid as an industry.

    The commercial reason, probably the more important one – the ruling gives customer friendly airlines less competitive differentiation in the market place. In our geographic area we do not see Spirit advertisements, but Southwest does market the no bag fees and ticket exchange policies as reasons to fly them and not a less friendly airline.

  4. Separately: not so much to suggest why Southwest was one of the challengers, as to suggest why Suckworthy Airlines Inc. (dba United, Delta, American, and US Air) were not: if you can get industry darling Southwest to do it, – AND TO BEAR THE COST OF LITIGATION, mind you – why would you risk adding to your customer-unfriendly rep? If Southwest had won, so would all the airlines; but in either case, the headlines were about Southwest challenging the rules. Keeps the Big 4’s hands clean.

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