by Matt Alderton | July 29, 2014

Since 2012, airlines in the United States have been required to display full ticket prices -- including not only base airfares, but also taxes and fees -- in their advertisements. In a major win for said airlines, however, the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday voted in favor of the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, which despite its name would roll back transparency requirements to let airlines compete on the basis of base airfares alone.

Backed by unions representing pilots, mechanics and flight attendants, the legislation would still require airlines to disclose taxes and fees, but would allow them to do so in footnotes or pop-up ads while emphasizing only base fares.

"Happy to see the House pass the Transparent Airfares Act today, a bill I introduced so you can see the govt. taxes in your airline tickets," the bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) (pictured), said yesterday in a tweet.

Pro-Taxpayer or Anti-Consumer?

Like Shuster, the bill's supporters say consumers benefit from separating base airfares and taxes. Doing so, they argue, helps taxpayers be government watchdogs by making it easier to monitor federal taxes.

"Today's vote is welcome news for airline customers who deserve to know how much of their advertised ticket price is due to rapidly increasing federal taxes," Nicholas E. Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America (A4A), U.S. airlines' trade association, said in a statement. "We applaud [House leadership] in making airfare more transparent by enabling travelers to clearly see how much of their advertised ticket price is in reality going to Washington in federal taxes."

According to Calio, including taxes in advertised fares makes airfares appear artificially higher and less competitive than other modes of travel.

"Passage of the Transparent Airfares Act is an important step in delivering the transparency customers need and deserve, while holding Washington accountable for arbitrary tax hikes that unnecessarily drive up the cost of travel," he continued.

Opponents of the bill reject Calio's perspective. Citing consumer complaints about misleading airline advertisements, they argue that the Transparent Airfares Act actually discourages transparency.

"This is an industry-backed bill that should never have been cleared for takeoff in the first place," said William J. McGee, aviation and transportation consultant to Consumers Union, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of consumers. "Despite its title, the Transparent Airfares Act would only serve to make the bottom line airfare price more opaque and harder for consumers to shop. Proponents of the legislation claim that consumers are being harmed because taxes and fees imposed are being 'hidden,' which is simply untrue. The real harm to consumers would come from making it even more difficult to pinpoint the total cost of a ticket when travelers are already dealing with an influx of new airline fees for anything from carrying on bags, selecting seats or calling reservation centers. Consumers Union strongly opposes this legislation."

Further, opponents have accused Shuster of being in bed with airlines.

"The legislative process that the House followed was shameful," said traveler advocate Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition (BTC). "Rep. Bill Shuster received some $200,000 from the air transport industry in 2013-2014 and allowed airlines to highjack the legislative process in the House, a process greased with money."

Next Steps

Although public debate over the Transparent Airfares Act continues, Congressional debate may be over: So far, the Associated Press reports, there is no companion bill in the Senate, although Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has introduced legislation that would make current rules permanent and double the fines levied on airlines that violate them.

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