Davis cosponsors airline bill criticized by consumer groups
WASHINGTON — Legislation cosponsored by U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, is being criticized by consumer and travel advocacy groups who claim it would allow airlines to hide bottom-line ticket prices.
Davis, a freshman congressman whose district includes Champaign-Urbana, was featured in a CBS News story Tuesday morning about the bill. He is one of 32 cosponsors of HR 4156, whose chief sponsor is Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Penn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The bill, called the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, is supported by the airline industry. It would undo the Full Fare Advertising Rule ordered in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Transportation. That rule requires airlines to advertise the full cost of a ticket, including taxes and fees levied by airport authorities and federal, state and local governments.
As written in the legislation, airlines would be allowed to report a base fare, then separately disclose the full cost of the ticket.
"One of the issues right now is that taxpayers don't know what they're paying when they buy tickets," said Andrew Flach, a spokesman for Davis. "It's not clearly stated what the government taxes and fees are, and what the base price of a ticket is. There have been studies that show that the average price of a domestic ticket is $300, and about 21 percent of that is government-imposed taxes and fees.
"This is a bipartisan bill, by the way, and what it does is increase transparency, so that people know exactly what they're paying for. We're going back to the way the rules were pre-2012, when the Department of Transportation fundamentally changed the rules. It's just like if you buy a car or a TV or a hotel room; taxes and fees aren't included in all those. Airline tickets were singled out by the Department of Transportation, so this is going to make it like any other product purchase you make."
But Zane Kerby, president of the American Society of Travel Agents, said the bill "would allow airlines to deceive travelers about the actual cost of a flight."
"The airlines challenged the rule in court and lost, then tried the United States Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. Congress should stay its hand here," Kerby said. "There is no evidence of consumer harm under the DOT rule, only benefits for the traveling public."
The Business Travel Coalition also opposes the proposal.
"This bill would undermine DOT consumer protections by retreating to a print advertising practice that would allow lower base ticket prices to be highlighted first and foremost while by permitting total ticket prices to be disclosed in an opaque manner," the association said. "The most pernicious consumer consequences of HR 4156 are with regard to Internet advertising. Airlines would be free to conspicuously display lower base ticket prices on initial screens and then disclose higher total ticket prices, including government taxes and fees, on other parts of their websites through a link or pop up ... This represents an open invitation for deceptive marketing practices."
The measure is awaiting approval in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Most of the bill's cosponsors are members of the committee, and many also are among the top recipients of campaign contributions from the airline industry, according to opensecrets.org.
Shuster has received $125,600 from the air transport industry (the most of any member of Congress); ranking Democrat Nick Rahall of West Virginia has received $34,500; and Davis has reported $31,781 in airline industry contributions during this election cycle.