There has never been a better time to fly. Customers are benefiting from an unprecedented combination of affordability and choice. Not surprisingly, a record number of travelers are taking to the skies. This year, U.S. airlines are expected to break the record for summer air travel yet again, with an all-time high of 246.1 million passengers.
Independent surveys, such as one by J.D. Power, show customer satisfaction with airlines is growing. And fares are historically low. In fact, they’ve declined for three straight years.
Yet when consumers choose their flights, they don’t see just how low those fares really are, as they would when shopping for just about any other consumer product. That’s because the so-called full-fare advertising rule forces airlines to advertise an inflated price that bakes in Uncle Sam’s exorbitant cut. Federally imposed taxes account for $63 — or 21% — of a typical domestic $300 round-trip ticket.
Consumers also need and deserve consistency wherever they purchase their tickets, whether directly from airlines or through an online travel agent. That’s not the case today.
Fortunately, a bipartisan group in Congress is moving to change that discrepancy by proposing that the Department of Transportation require $100-million-plus-a-year ticket agents adopt “minimum customer service standards,” including such basic concepts as promptly responding to customer complaints.
The traveling public deserves at least a scintilla of accountability from the online travel agents.
It’s baffling that anyone would oppose these modest, consumer-friendly reforms. Online travel agents earn substantial profits selling airline tickets; they should not be exempt from customer accountability.
Forty years after the industry was deregulated by consumer advocates, the market continues to deliver positive change for consumers. Flying is more affordable and accessible — and that is a history lesson consumers are counting on Congress to heed.