One of the most difficult tasks anyone can undertake is to determine what an airline ticket will cost before you buy it. The extra fees and charges collected by the airlines make it extremely difficult to know the total cost of a ticket before you pay the bill and to comparison shop the airlines when you are planning a trip. This is a significant trap for the unwary airline traveler. The airlines are not even required to disclose all their extra fees to everyone selling their tickets, such as websites and travel agents.
The Department of Transportation requires the airlines to include all mandatory taxes in their advertised ticket prices, and to disclose all baggage fees at the time a ticket is purchased online. However, the airlines are not required to disclose baggage fees and all other add-on fees to anyone else who sells airline tickets, such as travel websites and travel agents. Book a ticket at one of the online travel sites, and you cannot be sure of any additional airline charges unless you go to the airline’s website and look for its additional fees and charges. Hopefully, this will change in the not too distant future. The Department of Transportation is working on a proposal that would require the airlines to provide all add-on fee information to everyone that sells their tickets. However, the decision on whether or not to implement such a requirement is not scheduled to be made until May, 2013, largely because the DOT is being inundated with arguments from the airlines and consumer advocates. One must question why the airlines would oppose full disclosure. Perhaps the answer is related to the billions of dollars the airlines are reported to be collecting annually in such added-on fees.
Infrequent fliers are shocked to learn that a lot of things taken for granted in “the good old days” of airline travel now cost extra. Want to make a reservation by telephone? Be prepared to pay a fee. Is your checked baggage considered by the airline to be oversized or overweight? That will really cost you. Expecting a meal or a snack or a soft drink on your flight? Better bring your wallet. How about a pillow or a blanket? Ka-Ching. The list goes on and on: fees for priority boarding, fees for a window, aisle, or exit row seat, fees for carry-on baggage, and fees for a seat with enough legroom to avoid permanent paralysis. The bottom line is, know before you go.
Have you ever waited at your departure gate for your flight to depart, only to learn that the airline overbooked the flight (sold more seats than available)? Overbooking is the airline’s way of covering itself for the no-shows and last minute cancellations. But what happens if all ticketed passengers show up? The airline is required to pay money to passengers who are involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight. Bumped passengers subject to short delays (within 1 to 2 hours of the originally scheduled arrival time for domestic flights, and 1 to 4 hours of the originally scheduled arrival time for international flights) are entitled to compensation up to $650 or 200% of the one-way fare, whichever is smaller. Bumped passengers subject to long delays (more than 2 hours after the originally scheduled arrival time for domestic flights, and more than 4 hours after the originally scheduled arrival time for international flights) are entitled to compensation up to $1,300 or 400% of the one-way fare, whichever is smaller. If the airline verbally offers a travel voucher to an involuntarily bumped passenger, the airline must also verbally offer the monetary compensation by cash or a check. Passengers who are solicited to voluntarily give up their ticket must be informed of all material restrictions on the use of transportation vouchers offered in lieu of cash. If you are not in a hurry, voluntarily giving up your ticket on an overbooked flight may get you the proverbial free ride.