Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Wed August 24 2016

Senators Call On DOT To Enforce Transparent Airline Pricing

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | August 24, 2016

Senators Call On DOT To Enforce Transparent Airline Pricing

PHOTO: U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Photo courtesy Sen. Blumenthal’s Office)

U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) are again flexing their political muscle when it comes to the airline industry.

The group has sent a letter to the Obama Administration’s Director of the National Economic Council, Jeffrey Zients, to follow through with a recent Executive Order to promote competitive markets in all sectors, including airline pricing.

“Given the unprecedented level of consolidation within the airline industry, it is more important than ever that Americans maintain the ability to comparison shop,” the Senators wrote. “Accordingly, we write to raise our concerns about potentially anticompetitive and anti-consumer behavior among airlines that may be suppressing consumer ability to make informed flight decisions. We believe such practices are damaging to consumers and potentially violate our existing consumer protection laws that promote competition in the air transportation industry.”

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The senators are specifically referring to online travel agencies such as Travelocity, Priceline, Kayak and more, which they believe might be restricted by some airlines which refuse to provide all fare and schedule information to the sites.

According to a study conducted last year by Yale University’s Dr. Fiona Scott-Morton and commissioned by Travel Tech, if U.S. airlines selectively restrict access to flight fare and schedule information it will cost American travelers an additional $6.7 billion dollars annually.

In the letter, the Senators urged Zients to recommend that the Department of Transportation (DOT) “use its existing authority to promote a transparent, competitive marketplace that allows consumers to easily make good purchasing decisions.”

“The traveling public depends on third-party price comparison sites to make apples-to-apples comparisons among fares and flights and to select the best price, schedule, and airport from all available options. Unfortunately, some airlines appear to be taking steps to restrict consumer access to fare and schedule information on such sites,” the senators wrote. “This lack of transparency is forcing consumers to gather fare, schedule, and availability information directly from the websites of airlines partaking in this behavior, thus hindering the ability to easily compare information when booking travel, reducing the need for airlines to offer competitive products, and eliminating an important catalyst for pricing competition.”

Steve Shur, President of the Travel Technology Association (Travel Tech), agreed.

“Consumers deserve transparency when searching for publicly available information on often costly purchases like air travel,” he said. “It is in the public interest that travel search engines like TripAdvisor and others be able to provide consumers publicly available schedule and fare information for all flights, and it fosters competition amongst the airlines themselves. This is especially important given the rapid consolidation in the U.S. airline market over the past 10 years, with four carriers now controlling over 85 percent of domestic air capacity.”

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