In an apparent victory for consumers, the U.S. Department of Transportation, has announced that “public interest will best be served by maintaining the status quo” insofar as maintaining its air-transportation price-advertising rule.The DOT’s decision was in keeping with the American Society of Travel Agents’ (ASTA) comments (submitted 13 February 2006), in which the Society argued for maintaining governmental restrictions on airline pricing in place to protect consumers. The DOT had solicited comments as to whether it should relax or possibly eliminate enforcement of its “One-Price Policy.”
ASTA opposed any relaxation or elimination of the rule on grounds that there was no evidence that suggested a change was warranted or that the policy had failed to accomplish its purpose. Instead, ASTA suggested that the DOT had a “golden opportunity” to produce a user-friendly “One-Price Policy” that consumers, airlines and travel agents can understand.
“We are extremely pleased that the DOT has chosen to keep its ‘One-Price Policy’ as is,” said ASTA President and CEO Cheryl Hudak, CTC. “In doing so, it has sent a message to the travel industry as a whole, that transparency in pricing is a priority and that attempts to bury taxes and fees will not be tolerated. It is a true victory for consumers.”
The ‘One-Price Policy’ was established by the DOT in 1984 with the intent of clarifying what is and is not a deceptive price advertisement. The policy mandates how airfares are advertised, allowing only for the exclusion from the total price of fees that are just paid to governments and those paid for agency services that are not part of the transportation service. Everything else, including fuel surcharges, must be incorporated into the quoted price. The DOT had proposed that changes to the policy be made on the grounds that (1) a long time has passed since the original rule was adopted, and (2) electronic communications have led to changes in (a) marketing practices and (b) consumer sophistication. (70 Fed. Reg. 73961-73962).
In its original comments, ASTA wrote:
Finally, we are not aware of the basis for the Department’s assertion that consumers are more sophisticated now than they were, say, five years ago, or even 20 years ago for that matter. Many consumers certainly have acquired new facility with electronic communications, but possession of that skill does not imply that they are less gullible or less easily confused. If “consumer sophistication” is to be the lynchpin of a radical new policy, something more than a bald assertion of its existence is required.