Saturday, September 26, 2009

Consumers Critical of Airline Service Fees

Thomas Hinton, president and CEO of the American Consumer Council (ACC), has sharply criticized ten domestic airlines for using deceptive pricing practices to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers who fly their airlines. According to the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics, a recent report shows that domestic airlines collected $3.8 billion in non-ticket fees for checking bags, the cancellation and re-booking of flights, carrying pets aboard planes and assigning seats.

The ten domestic airlines that Hinton criticized during CNBC's Power Lunch program included: American, Delta, U.S. Airways, United, Northwest, Continental, AirTran, Spirit, Frontier and JetBlue. Hinton said the ten airlines collected more than $669 million dollars in baggage fee revenues alone during the 2nd quarter of 2009. Hinton claimed that "many of those baggage fees were collected from unsuspecting travelers and who were unfairly charged."

On CNBC's Power Lunch program, Hinton also stated, "These types of a la carte pricing practices are unfair, deceptive and should be stopped by the airlines or, if necessary, a class action lawsuit."

Hinton explained that most travelers assume when they purchase an airline ticket, it entitles them to receive an assigned seat, check a piece of luggage and receive a snack and beverage aboard their flight. Hinton added, "These ten airlines should be upfront and truthful with consumers by including these traditional items in the cost of a ticket. To do otherwise, is viewed as deceptive and under-handed."

Hinton also questioned the credibility of the airlines industry because of recent problems with extended flight delays, an increase in the number of lost bags and the mishandling of luggage. Hinton referenced the "United Breaks Guitars" You Tube video by musician Dave Carroll, a United Airline passenger, whose expensive guitar was tossed around like a football on the tarmac of Chicago's O'Hare Airport by United Airline baggage handlers. United Airlines denied responsibility for nine months until the popularity of the You Tube video forced the airline to make amends.

Giving credit where it was due, Hinton did praise Southwest Airlines as the only major domestic airline that practices ethical and fair pricing because they do not charge under-the-table fees or service charges for baggage, pets, or in-flight meals.

Hinton noted that unsuspecting travelers must often pay an extra $50 - $100 per flight as a result of the service charges and fees issued by airlines. He called on consumers to express their displeasure with the ten domestic airlines that are "manipulating ticket prices by using under-the-table fees and service charges to boost the true cost of travel" Hinton encouraged CNBC viewers to "tell the airlines you don't like their deceptive and unfair pricing tactics."

Hinton also renewed his call on Congress to pass the Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights claiming, "Nothing has been done by the airline industry during the past year to improve customer service, treat consumers fairly or instill ethical pricing tactics so the real cost of travel is transparent."

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