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Attorneys General: Disclose Baggage Fees Upfront

December 20, 2017, 11:58 AM HST
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Attorney General Doug Chin joined a coalition with 16 other attorneys general on Wednesday, Dec. 20, asking the Trump Administration to not withdraw a rule requiring airlines and third-party booking companies to disclose baggage fees and other charges upfront, making it easier for passengers to know the true cost of buying airline tickets.

“Hawai‘i residents rely heavily on air travel, which has already gotten more frustrating due to the extra costs for things that used to be included in the price of a ticket, like food and checked baggage,” said Attorney General Chin. “Allowing the airlines to hide the cost of those extra fees for baggage isn’t fair to consumers and will increase the dissatisfaction of Hawai‘i residents and tourists alike.”

The Transparency of Airline Ancillary Service Fees rule, proposed in January 2017, would have made it far easier for consumers to understand the full cost of their plane tickets. When a customer books a ticket, the baseline price is typically all that is shown. Carry-on baggage fees, checked baggage fees, seat fees and more are not disclosed until booking is nearly complete—or even after tickets have been purchased. The rule would have required airlines to post all the fees up front at the beginning of the booking process—instead of surprising consumers at the end.

The coalition, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, asked U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in a letter today to not withdraw the rule. U.S. airlines are expected to earn $57 billion from these fees this year—and $7 billion from baggage fees alone.

The DOT announced earlier this month it was withdrawing the rule, which was proposed during the final days of the Obama administration. The department said in a notice posted online that the rule would have been “of limited public benefit.”

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According to a 2016 study cited by the attorneys general in their letter to Secretary Chao, travelers paid an average of $100 in fees per round-trip on Spirit airlines, $97 on Frontier and $86.92 on United.

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“We regularly hear reports from consumers in our states who are confused and frustrated by these fees, which significantly alter the total cost of travel,” the attorneys general wrote.

The attorneys general letter details the many different fees that airlines are increasingly charging consumers for basic services which were previously considered standard services covered by the basic ticket price. In addition to baggage fees, some airlines charge for printing boarding passes at the airport, allowing passengers to select seats and even to provide assistance to children traveling by themselves.

“It is critical that consumers are able to quickly and easily determine and understand the full costs of their travel to make informed choices,” the letter states.

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The attorneys general wrote that while they are committed to working collaboratively with the transportation department to protect consumers and ensure the country’s aviation industry is able to grow, “this decision by your department works against those goals, making it harder for Americans to be informed consumers when they travel.”

In addition to Hawai‘i and Pennsylvania, the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia signed today’s letter.

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