Flight price comparison fight ramps up
08/02/2012 @ 12:03
WASHINGTON – Everyone involved in air travel — online travel agents, federal transportation officials, consumer advocates and airlines — claims to want to give passengers more information about prices for options such as meals and seat assignments while buying tickets.
But a fight has broken out among them as the Department of Transportation develops a rule that could force airlines to provide all those choices to travel agents so they could make it easier to compare the total price of flights among airlines.
Airlines contend they provide the fees on their own websites and can spread the information more broadly through specific deals such as the one Delta Air Lines has to market seats with extra legroom on its two-class aircraft.
But consumer advocates, travel agents and the companies that provide ticket-price comparisons argue that the government needs to force airlines to provide the data so customers can compare. The difference is between going to specific sites, such as Southwest Airlines or to comparison sites such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity.
The fight will get a public airing Aug. 7, when a consumer-advocate panel that makes recommendations to the DOT will look at the department's plans to issue a rule by late November that could force airlines to provide the computerized information about all their fees to comparison companies.
"Consumers are being denied the ability to compare prices," says Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance and a member of the panel called the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection. "They can't compare apples to apples easily."
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