RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces New Clear and Simple Airline Agenda

Pushing for “Airline Transparency Box” to Clearly Outline All Fees. Protecting Families from Hidden Airline Fees. Calling on U.S. Department of Transportation to Implement Airline Rule to Show Full Price and Fees Up Front.

Feb 27, 2023
Press
Above: Gottheimer with his proposed “Airline Transparency Box” and airline’s endless small type legalize and fare rules. 

NEWARK, NJ — Today, February 27, 2023, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced a new Clear and Simple Airline Agenda to protect families’ hard-earned dollars by boosting transparency and clarity when booking a plane ticket.

Gottheimer’s Clear and Simple Airline Agenda aims to eliminate surprise costs and prevent families from having to read endless pages of wonky, small type legalese and fare rules just to try to understand what they are buying and the fees that come with their plane ticket.

U.S. airlines made more than $112 billion dollars in passenger fees during the first nine months of 2022 — all while the cost of airfare continues to rise. Last October, the U.S. Department of Transportation received more than 5,000 complaints about airline service from consumers in just one month — a 372% increase from the number of complaints received pre-pandemic in October of 2019.

The President recently highlighted “junk fees” in his State of the Union address earlier this month. Junk fees are additional charges and taxes — usually hidden from the customer — that are tacked on to the final price at the time of payment.

Gottheimer’s Clear and Simple Airline Agenda:

  • Gottheimer will be sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation urging for the swift finalization and implementation of a rule requiring airlines and online booking services to show the full price of a plane ticket up front, including baggage fees, change fees, cancellation fees, and other hidden charges.
  • Gottheimer is calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation to require all commercial airlines to have a new “Airline Transparency Box” to display all taxes, seat, baggage, and airport fees, and cancellation and change fees all on the same page when fare options appear on a website or app — not at the very end.
    • The box is broken down into two sections: general fees in the top table, and cancellation rules and fees by ticket class in the bottom table. 
    • This type of transparency box is similar to the “Schumer Box” that summarizes the costs and fees for credit cards. 

“Right now, and I hear about this far too often from constituents, it’s as if the airlines are looking for ways to nickel and dime you, and make the tickets and the fare rules even more confusing. It’s hard to even understand what you’re buying. It seems like the baggage costs, the seat fees, the cancellation and ticket change charges, or the taxes and fees no one has ever heard of add up to more than the cost of the ticket itself,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Behind every single fee are wonky, small type legalese and fare rules. We’ve all seen the thousand-word fine print of terms and conditions — checking off boxes to verify that you’ve read what seems like hundreds of pages. It feels like you need to hire a lawyer just to feel safe about buying plane tickets for a family.”

Gottheimer continued, “We need to make sure airlines are doing everything they can to be clear and simple when communicating with consumers about all taxes and airport fees. Those often get left out and come out of nowhere on the ticket price until right before you hit the buy button.”

Video of the announcement can be found here.

Below: Below: Gottheimer’s proposed “Airline Transparency Box.”

Below: Gottheimer with Michael Grey from Congressman Donald Payne’s (NJ-10) office.

Below: Gottheimer with his proposed “Airline Transparency Box.”

Below: Gottheimer thanking Port Authority Police officers. 

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. We’re here today at Newark Liberty International Airport to take on an issue that we all deal with when we fly — those stacks of hidden fees that kill your wallet and the torturous terms and conditions that could literally send the best lawyers over the edge. It’s time for true transparency — in a clear and simple way — so that families flying out of here, or any airport, know the true cost of a flight, from bags to seats, and what happens to their tickets if they have to make a change.

We’ve all been there — searching for flights, deciding between airlines and airports — all to make sure we get the best deal. After all, flying can get expensive. Prices have really shot up since the height of the pandemic. Every dollar saved makes a real difference when you’re visiting friends or family, running a small business, or trying to take the kids away for President’s Day weekend.

But, right now, and I hear about this far too often from constituents, it’s as if the airlines are looking for ways to nickel and dime you, and make the tickets and the fare rules even more confusing. It’s hard to even understand what you’re buying. It seems like the baggage costs, the seat fees, the cancellation and ticket change charges, or the taxes and fees no one has ever heard of add up to more than the cost of the ticket itself! After the pandemic — and with spring break and summer trips right around the corner — people want nothing more than to go visit loved ones or take a much-needed vacation with family.

Behind every single fee I mentioned are wonky, small type legalese and fare rules. We’ve all seen the thousand-word fine print of terms and conditions — checking off boxes to verify that you’ve read what seems like hundreds of pages.

Just take a look at a real-life example from the last time my wife and I went to buy a ticket for our family, of how an airline informs a customer of the penalties and rules that come with a purchase, or if you try to change your ticket. My wife and I are both lawyers, and, I’ll tell you, we couldn’t decrypt the fine print — the fare classes, the change fees, what’s actually refundable and if you’ll be penalized for canceling.

It feels like you need to hire a lawyer just to feel safe about buying plane tickets for a family.

Here’s the good news: Airlines are beginning to reach their pre-pandemic numbers — posting strong profits. We were there for them during the pandemic, to help them through it. And I don’t mind them doing well — that’s good for the economy. In 2022, the average cost of airfare increased by 13 percent from the same time the prior year. But they don’t have to stick it to us, too, with these gotcha fees and fine print.  

The President recently highlighted what he called “junk fees” in his State of the Union address earlier this month. Junk fees are additional charges and taxes — usually hidden from the customer — that are tacked on to the final price at the time of payment. This is on top of what they make for the seat you pick, the food boxes, or your luggage. I’m talking about the extra stuff — the ones that come right before you hit the final purchase button — such as which boarding line you get to stand in, early check-in fees, additional surprise taxes, or charging families to sit together.

There are many different policies for different airlines, and we appreciate what United and Frontier have recently done to make it easier for families to sit together. But these should be universal policies and we need more transparency across the board.

All in, U.S. airlines made more than $112 billion dollars in passenger fees during the first nine months of 2022 — all while the cost of airfare continues to rise.

The President called on us to pass a Junk Fee Prevention Act, to reduce unexpected charges for families, including airline booking fees, service fees for concert tickets, early termination fees, and random “resort fees” at hotels. Frankly, the President is right that we should look at these hidden or surprise fees. That’s my real issue. The gotchas and the lack of transparency.

Beyond that, I’ve always believed that people should be able to make their own decisions if you’re straight with them. If you don’t claim one thing and do another, or make it impossible to understand what you’re getting into. True transparency is a good thing. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said more than a century ago: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” 

Today I’m announcing my Clear and Simple Airline Agenda — to protect our families’ hard-earned dollars by boosting clarity when booking a plane ticket.

First, I will be sending a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg this week to urge his department to implement a rule requiring airlines and online booking services to show the full price of a plane ticket up front, including baggage fees, change fees, cancellation fees, and other hidden charges.  Ticket information must be clear and readable. This isn’t a few dollars here and there — some of these hidden charges can add up to hundreds of dollars.

The DOT should swiftly act to finalize this rule because our families’ pocketbooks are hurting.

Second, we need to make sure airlines are doing everything they can to be clear and simple when communicating with consumers about all taxes and airport fees. Those often get left out and come out of nowhere on the ticket price until right before you hit the buy button.

Third, as part of my Clear and Simple Airline Agenda, in addition to implementing new transparency rules, I’m also calling on DOT to require all commercial airlines to have a new “Airline Transparency Box” that would display all taxes, seat, bag, and airport fees, and cancellation and change fees — all on the same page when your fare options pop up. And not at the very end after you think you got a great deal. This will help ensure that booking travel is straightforward for consumers — rather than surprising and unnecessarily expensive. I’ve put up an example of what the Airline Transparency Box could look like on a website or app.

As you can see this box — which would be easily accessible to the customer at all stages in the buying process — clearly outlines what fees come with the ticket. It’s broken down into two sections: general fees which you can see in the top table, and cancellation rules and fees by ticket class in the bottom table. And it needs to be an accurate summary — not a hundred-page treatise that a Supreme Court Justice would get tied in knots over.

This box would eliminate any surprise costs and prevent families from having to read endless pages of incomprehensible rules just to try to understand what they’re buying and the fees that come with the ticket.

With airline tickets often contractually obligating such crazy fees and unreasonable change fees, action must be taken to disclose the full, transparent price of a ticket.

We’ve seen this type of transparency box with credit cards and it’s clearly possible to do — so there is no reason airline tickets shouldn’t have them as well. It’s similar to the “Schumer Box” that summarizes the costs and fees with a credit card. The idea is fewer surprises and clearer decision making for families — about everything.

More transparency when purchasing airfare will help protect families and consumers from surprise charges — making it crystal clear what their purchase means, so they know exactly what they’re getting in return for their hard-earned dollars. And it will help protect the airlines from very frustrated customers who feel ripped off and surprised. Last October, the Department of Transportation received more than 5,000 complaints about airline service from consumers — that’s just in one month. That’s a 372 percent spike from the number of complaints received pre-pandemic in October of 2019.

Thank you all again for joining me here today to demand help for families when dealing with airlines and their ticketing and fees.

In the greatest country in the world, working together, I know that our best days will always be ahead of us. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

Now, I have a flight to catch back to Washington for votes!

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