Would you like to know what your plane ticket actually costs?

by Brian Wolfman

Under a 2012 Obama administration rule — which survived an airline industry challenge in the courts — airline consumers are told, up front, the total cost of an airline ticket — that is, the base airfare, mandatory fees, and the taxes. The breakdown comes later. The idea is that if all the airlines tell consumers the total fare, consumers more easily can comparison shop. (The system does not enable pefect comparison shopping in all cases without some work because many airlines charge for some "extras" (like baggage carriage) and others don't.)

As this article by Joan Lowy explains, before the "administration put its regulation in place two years ago, airlines and ticketing services would typically display the lower base fare in large type and show taxes and fees in small print. Consumers shopping online often weren't shown taxes and fees unless they scrolled to the bottom of the web page or clicked through several pages after selecting a flight."

Having lost in the courts, the industry now is turning to its friends in Congress. If a bill named The Transparent Airfares Act becomes law, the airlines will be able to advertise the base fare and then add in taxes and fees at the time of final purchase. And, for Internet sales, "disclosure" of taxes and fees can be hidden in pop-ups and links.

The airlines say that the proposed law is fair because it allows airlines to do what car rental companies and other businesses do.

The chief sponsor of the bill is House Republican Bill Shuster. Shuster has gotten more money from the airline industry this election cycle than any other member of Congress. A spokesperson for Shuster says that Shuster "receives support from many constituencies because they support his agenda, not the other way around."