U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to require airlines that charge carry-on baggage fees to fully disclose those fees in all price quotes for airline tickets in order to allow consumers to know the true cost of a flight and to do comparison shopping between different flights. Schumer's call comes in the wake of reports that Allegiant Air is now charging passengers carry-on baggage fees of up to $35 per bag stored in an overhead bin. Two years ago, Schumer successfully secured commitments from the major airlines to refrain from charging carry-on baggage fees, but Spirit Airlines persisted, and now Allegiant Air has begun doing so. However, when consumers go to purchase tickets, carry-on baggage fees are not listed as part of the initial price quote -- instead consumers are directed to additional airline disclosure pages to see a list all potential fees. Schumer is calling on the DOT to change the regulation to require that exact carry-on baggage fees, standard fare for anyone traveling, be disclosed with the price quote provided by airlines.
"The airlines are at it again, trying to see how much they can squeeze out of passengers while trying to advertise a price that is significantly lower than what the traveler will ultimately pay," said Schumer. "Well, if an airline wants to try and nickel and dime a passenger than we will make sure that those nickels and dimes are disclosed up front as part of the price quote. Fliers should be able to travel with a carry-on bag without paying a fee, period, but if they are going to be forced to do so, they should be informed about the fees when they look at the initial price of the ticket."
For years, the airline industry has continued to add supplemental fees to airline travel--fees which consumers have begrudgingly tolerated thus far. In the last few years, airlines have added fees for checked baggage, seat assignments in the coach cabin, in-flight entertainment headsets, snacks, and even pillows. Since the inception of commercial air travel, customers have always been given the opportunity to bring one carry-on bag with them to store in the overhead compartment without fear of being slapped with an additional fee. In 2010, Spirit Airlines was the first airline to start charging passengers for carry-on bags. According to United Continental, 87% of passengers bring bags on the plane, making them ubiquitous with air travel.
In order to prevent other airlines from charging carry-on baggage fees as well, in 2010, Senator Schumer successfully secured commitments from American, Delta, JetBlue, United, and US Air not to charge for carry-on bags. And since that time, only one airline, Spirit Airlines, has charged for carry-on bags -- until this week, when Allegiant Air announced that it would be charging passengers up to $35 per carry-on bag stowed in an overhead bin.
Current regulations only require airlines to show if there will be additional baggage fees at the point of price quote, and inform consumers where they can go to see these fees. They do not require airlines to disclose the actual carry-on baggage fee with the price quote, up front, meaning that customers may not know about the fees until later. Schumer wants that changed to require airlines to publish fare quotations that specifically enumerate the costs of carry-on bag fees in the advertised fare so that consumers have a greater picture of the likely and standard cost of a ticket. This change will allow customers to make "apples-to-apples" determinations as to which airline will ultimately provide the lowest cost of travel for a particular flight.
A copy of Schumer's letter is below.
April 5, 2012
The Honorable Ray LaHood
Secretary, Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20590
Dear Secretary LaHood:
Thank you for all that you are doing to protect the interests of the millions of American consumers who travel each year aboard our various commercial airliners. I respectfully write to ask that the Department of Transportation's Office of Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement take action to protect consumers from being misled by carry-on luggage fees.
Recently, Allegiant Airlines decided that it would join Spirit Airlines in charging consumers a substantial fee of up to $35 for placing a bag inside of an airplane's overhead container. According to United Continental, 87% of passengers in recent years bring bags on planes, making them ubiquitous with air travel. Consequently, for nearly all airline passengers, a carry-on bag fee would effectively represent an increase in the cost of the flight.
While it is the airline's prerogative to decide how much to charge its consumers for a flight, my concern is that consumers not be misled into paying more for a flight than they otherwise would have paid had they known the total cost of that flight upfront. In this regard, I commend you for your recent regulations requiring airlines and ticket agents to include all mandatory taxes and fees in published airfares and requiring that they disclose baggage fees to consumers buying tickets.
These regulations, however, should be tweaked in order to prevent consumers from being deceived by carry-on baggage fees. Current regulations only require airlines publishing a fare quotation for a specific itinerary to indicate that there may be additional baggage fees, and inform consumers where they can go to see these fees. Because bringing a carry-on bag is effectively a compulsory part of flying, I believe DOT's regulations should be changed to require airlines and ticket agents to inform passengers of the price of a carry-on item on the first screen which offers a fare quotation, and to show that additional airline fees for checked baggage may apply and where consumers can go to see these baggage fees. This change will allow customers to make "apples-to-apples" determinations as to which airline will ultimately provide the lowest cost of travel for a particular flight.
I thank you for your attention to this important matter, and am eager to work with you to ensure that the federal government is doing everything it can to protect the travelling public.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator