Friday, January 27, 2012

Airlines Should Get Aboard with the new Truth-in-Advertising Rules

This week, Ray LaHood, the Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation, announced new rules that require domestic airlines to include all taxes and fees in airline ticket prices. These new rules are common sense and are good for consumers.

Surprisingly, Southwest, Allegiant and Spirit Airlines are resisting this “truth in advertising” policy by suing the US-DOT over the new rules. The airlines are arguing that the new requirements make the rules for the airline industry more stringent than any other. That’s utter nonsense! The fact is consumers are fed-up with the airlines lousy service, unfair pricing rules, non-disclosure of upfront costs for baggage, meals and ticket changes. This is why Secretary LaHood and US-DOT should resist any changes to their new rules. Consumers deserve honesty and full disclosure from the airlines.

Frankly, I’m surprised by Southwest Airlines’ involvement in the lawsuit. As one who regularly flies Southwest, I think it might tarnish their otherwise sterling reputation. Southwest Airlines has been an industry leader and a role model for domestic airlines in many ways – their consistent profitability, a very strong safety record, low fares, free baggage, customer-friendly flight attendants who know how to make passengers smile and laugh during the safety announcements, and the most user-friendly website in the industry, bar none.

On the other hand Spirit Airlines has earned a reputation for nickel-and-diming its passengers for everything! So, their position in the lawsuit is understandable. They want to continue to lure prospective passengers onto their website by disguising low fares before hammering them with various fees and charges after passengers have purchased the ticket. These are the very types of unfair pricing tactics that Secretary LaHood is trying to stop.

In fact, Spirit Airlines and AirTran Airways, which is owned by Southwest, were fined a combined $90,000 for violating the pricing rules in advertisements such as emails, tweets and on their websites. Allegiant Airlines was fined in 2009 for not including a convenience fee in initial fare quotes. Need I say more?

The airlines have had their way for too many years. They have consistently practiced unfair and devious pricing schemes to lure passengers onto their flights and making record profits in the process. But, a growing number of complaints by consumers prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement new rules which are based on fairness, truth-in-advertising and full disclosure. Frankly, these new rules are long overdue and the airlines ought to quit their pouting and do the right thing by consumers.

The turbulence surrounding the new Department of Transportation rules amounts to little more than belly-aching from the airlines that must now be honest and forthright with consumers. It’s one more reason why a strong government watchdog agency like the U.S. Department of Transportation is necessary. Without such rules in place, airlines would continue to use unfair pricing tactics and unscrupulous methods to lure travelers onto their planes. Am I exaggerating? Not at all! Just read what the lobbying group, All Airlines for America (A4A) stated in the legal brief they filed with the D.C. Court of Appeals in support of the lawsuit by Spirit, Allegiant and Southwest Airlines.

In its legal filing, A4A said, "ATA members share DOT’s stated objective of ensuring that customers are treated fairly and consistently, receiving the products and services for which they have paid on the basis advertised to them. But ATA members do not share DOT’s unstated, but apparent, goal of holding airlines to much higher standards of conduct than prevail in other deregulated industries."

In other words, the airlines don’t like being held accountable to the same common sense practices and fairness standards that American consumers expect from every other industry. Are you kidding me? And, remember, folks this is the same industry that has gutted its workforce, stripped its talented and dedicated employees of fair wages and benefits and moved to decertify its unions. No wonder consumers are frustrated and outraged at the questionable pricing practices used by so many of our nation’s airlines. Perhaps, the airlines should simply mind their Ps and Qs and be lucky Secretary La Hood isn’t pushing for re-regulating the airlines!

About the Author:
Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with over 120,000 members. He can be reached at