US agent and GDS coalition demands ancillary transparency

The US government is being urged to ensure transparency over ancillary charges imposed by airlines.

A coalition of travel industry organisations has written to US transport secretary Ray LaHood calling for action.

“What we propose for the forthcoming rulemaking is to close the gap between existing rules and the full restoration of comparison shopping that consumers have been deprived of since aggressive airline product unbundling began in 2008,” the letter says.

“The roughly 50% of consumers who use the agency or other intermediary channels should be as informed and empowered as those who buy directly from airlines.

“That is, they should have full access to ancillary services and related fees, and the ability to purchase the complete air transportation product in a setting that promotes disclosure, convenience and competition.”

The latter was written under the auspices of Open Allies for Airfare Transparency, a coalition comprising nearly 400 travel agencies, consumer groups, corporate travel managers, GDSs, and travel associations.

It calls on the US Department of Transportation “to ensure that online and traditional travel agencies, and all other channels through which airline services are sold, are provided with transparent, transactable and dynamically updated airline fee data, enabling true comparison shopping and consumer choice”.

Open Allies executive director Arthur Sackler’s letter goes on: “Unfortunately, such a rule is needed because airlines have chosen not to share their ancillary fees, as they do with their base fares, in a manner that allows dynamic electronic disclosure and thus facilitates comparative shopping and purchasing by consumers through agency channels or other points of sale of their choosing.

“Today, if an airline does business with a GDS or travel agent, that airline is required to disclose through those distribution partners their code share arrangements as well as changes to aircraft gauge; the situation with ancillary services should be no different.

“In fact, we would argue that sharing ancillary fee data is likely more relevant to a consumers’ purchasing decision than code share or gauge information.”

It adds: “Open Allies does not seek a rule requiring any airline to contract with any distribution channel. But once an airline has chosen to utilise a distribution channel, fairness to consumers demands that it share ancillary service and fee data in a comprehensive, transactable and dynamically updated manner through that channel.

“That is, the airline should make all, not some, of the information about a particular itinerary available to the consumer, and enable him or her to buy all, not some, of at least the “core” (baggage, seating, boarding) services associated with that itinerary, through that channel.”

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