'Tis it nobler to add or to subtract? That is the question. And the slings and arrows of outrage are flying, as airlines, the Transportation Department and consumer and trade groups argue in the courts of law and public opinion about the fairness and impact of new rules on ticket price transparency and refunds. Effective Jan. 26, airlines must show consumers total fares, including taxes, from the get-go. If carriers wish, they can later show exactly what they get and how much is taxes—often a lot.
Many airline advertisements and websites had been doing it the other way around, offering only a partial price initially, while merely noting that ticket taxes will be added later—a practice that consumer groups say had passengers chasing the total fare in airlines' games of hide-and-seek. Florida-based low-cost carrier, and have filed suit here to reverse the rules. But Spirit is going even further. CEO Ben Baldanza is calling the new rule “disingenuous” and “sneaky,” and Spirit's website features a prominent “WARNING!” telling fare prospectors, “New government regulations require us to HIDE taxes in your fares.” Another new rule means consumers now have 24 hr. after making a reservation in which to cancel and get a full refund, as long the flight is at least a week away. Estimating that the full-refund rule will cost it $1.50-2.25 per customer, Spirit announced a $2 “DOTUC” fee; the UC stands for unintended consequences. The moves have drawn rebukes from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and DOT General Counsel Robert Rivkin. But Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) has introduced a bill to overturn the fare advertising rule. Meanwhile, Finnair managed to draw a $35,000 fine for violating the old rule. It ran a ticket price excluding taxes on its website, which used to be OK, but the note about extra taxes appeared only in tiny print at the bottom of an extensively long web page, a no-no even then.