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sep 08 2010

Are you "Mad as Hell" about hidden airline fees?

If so, a coalition of travel organizations wants to hear from you now, so that it can force airlines and booking sites to get better at disclosing fees.

The movement, appropriately called Mad As Hell About Hidden Fees, was created by a coalition of the American Society of Travel Agents, the Consumer Travel Alliance, and the Business Travel Coalition, and here's the mission at hand, to quote the MadAsHell website:

Airline fees are out of hand and surprise us from the moment we make reservations. There are telephone reservation fees, checked baggage fees, seat reservation fees, carry-on luggage fees, special seating fees, get-on-the-plane early fees, pillow-and-blanket fees and more fees on their way.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is examining this growing problem. They want your views on whether airlines should make their fees clear on their own websites and make them available to all travel agents so that travelers can compare the total cost of travel.

We are collecting names and stories to take to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Together we can make a difference.

The coalition will present the names and stories to the DOT on September 23, which has been dubbed "Mad As Hell Day."

Note that the purpose here is not to completely eliminate fees -- which are probably here to stay -- but simply to mandate transparency throughout the flight-booking process. According to the site's FAQ page, the altogether sensible goal is as follows:

The government needs to require airlines to make their fees fully and easily accessible to both consumers and intermediaries in the travel industry through every ticketing channel in which they participate, including the systems that power travel agencies and online travel sites. The fees should made available in electronic form, and in real time, so businesses, travel agents, and consumers can compare them for each flight—and among airlines—before they make their travel decisions.

But don't the airlines already disclose info regarding fees? Sort of. Too often, however, for a variety of reasons travelers don't find out about fees regarding seat selection, checked baggage, and so on until after they've booked their tickets. As another excerpt from the site's FAQ page states:

The airlines claim that burying a page somewhere on their web site that lists some, but not all, of their fees is sufficient disclosure. We say hogwash. More than 50% of travelers book their travel through brick-and-mortar and online travel agencies that have no direct access to those fees whatsoever. So for more than half of travelers, those fees are completely invisible.

So the idea is that the customer should know exactly how much he'll pay for a product before he pays for it, with all mandatory and optional fees listed in upfront, completely transparent fashion, no matter how or where a traveler books his flights.

That, in my personal opinion, isn't too much to ask for.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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