House Bill Co-Sponsored by Rahall, Capito Could Completely Change the Way You Travel

May 12, 2014

Booking tickets with airlines rarely ever seems to be an enjoyable process. A bill in the House of Representatives would change that, but whether it’ll make it better or worse depends on who you ask.

The debate is over HR 4156, which has made it through its single committee reference and is expected to receive a vote by the full chamber in the coming weeks.

Credit Simone Ramella / flickr.com/photos/ramella/

The bill is just four pages long, but don’t let that fool you. If passed, it could completely change the way you purchase airline tickets.

The Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 would “allow advertisements and solicitations for passenger air transportation to state the base airfare.” Basically, airline or third party sellers, like Kayak or Expedia, can begin to advertise only the ticket price up front, hiding the taxes and fees until the very end, right before the consumer goes to pay.

Charlie Leocha, co-founder of the consumer advocate group Traveler’s United, said the bill legalizes a practice called drip pricing, a form of bait and switch advertising.

 “You get a low ball price and then later on you find out there may be as much as another $30 or $40 in taxes and fees and finally at the end consumer learn what the total price is,” he said.

The bill says taxes and fees don’t necessarily have to be posted on the same web page either. They can be disclosed through a separate link on a web site or through pop ups.

Leocha said pricing tickets in this way makes it basically impossible for consumers to search and compare airfare prices.

Supporters, however, maintain the bill does make ticket prices clearer, breaking down the prices so consumers can see exactly how much they’re paying in taxes and holding the government more accountable.

That’s why Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito said she supports the bill and why she signed on as a co-sponsor.

“There are purposes for TSA and other taxes and fees attached to your airline bill that you just assume the airline is charging you,” she said, “when in actuality it’s the government taxing each ticket to a fairly large extent actually.”

Congressman Nick Rahall was one of the bill’s original co-sponsors. He declined an interview for this story, but staffers pointed to a written statement from his office that said:
 

“Hiding the real cost of flying from consumers is just plain wrong. Today, Americans demand more disclosure, not less.”

Both Capito’s and Rahall’s stance mimicked those of lobbying groups pushing for the bill like the Airline Pilots Association. A representative declined to do an interview but said in an email:
 

“The bill would help to remove the often misplaced blame that airlines receive regarding airfare increases by highlighting government-imposed taxes and fees.”
 

According to OpenSecrets.org, the ALPA also happens to be one of the top contributors to Rahall’s campaign, donating $20,000 for the 2014 campaign cycle. They were not listed as a top contributor to Capito’s campaign.

The airlines argue only they must hide government taxes and fees within their prices. In a column on the same bill in The Washington Post, Chris Elliott’s article uses the example of car rentals. When you search for a car, you’re quoted the base price then taxes and fees are added as you reach the end of your booking.

Leocha said, however, that’s like comparing apples to oranges. Those are local and state taxes added on rental cars and airlines aren’t subject to those taxes.

The bill so far has been pushed through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, of which Rahall in the ranking Democratic member. According to Leocha, it was discharged from the committee without discussion.

There has been no counterpart bill introduced in the Senate.