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Groups try to create political pressure to make airline fees more transparent

What's to like about those annoying airline fees?

You might get nicked for a blanket or buying your ticket online. The main reason to pay a new fee on American — $19 to $39 sit in the front rows of coach and board early — is to make sure you can find space for your carry-on bag.

That, of course, is a problem caused by passengers lugging larger carry-ons to avoid checked-luggage fees. So now, they are creating fees to protect yourself from consequences of their other fees. Where will it end?

Groups representing corporate travel buyers, traditional travel agents and consumers launched a campaign this week aimed at turning the public's anger over airline fees into political action.

This isn't about the government forcing airlines to eliminate even the worst fees. That won't and shouldn't happen. Uncle Sam deregulated the business more than three decades ago. Service has slipped in some cases, but airfares in general remain a bargain.

The Business Travel Coalition, American Society of Travel Agents and Consumer Travel Alliance say too many travelers don't find out about fees until they check in at the airport.

They want the federal government to make airlines improve disclosure of fees to consumers, brick-and-mortar travel agencies and online travel agencies like Travelocity and Expedia. The Department of Transportation has proposed new disclosure rules for public comment.

The DOT could require airlines to post a ''prominent" link on website home pages to a complete list of service fees. Fees now appear on various pages throughout airlines sites.

The agency also could force carriers to provide up-to-date fee information to online travel agencies and reservation systems used by traditional travel agents and corporate travel buyers. The groups hope to deliver thousands of traveler petitions supporting the changes on Sept. 23, which they dubbed "Mad as Hell Day.'' Their website is MadAsHellAbout HiddenFees.com.

Joe Sharkey, the New York Times travel columnist, wrote Monday that the real disclosure problem is for corporate travel managers, not consumers. They need to budget for their business travelers, and the current reservations systems they use give little data on fees, he wrote.

• • •

Some good news for Tampa International Airport travelers, especially Delta Air Lines frequent fliers.

Delta will begin the only nonstop flights from TIA to Cancun on Feb. 19, but only on Saturdays. JetBlue Airways flew the route daily for eight months last year. Passenger traffic tanked during Mexico's swine flu outbreak, and JetBlue discontinued the service Sept. 8.

Delta also will start flying twice daily between TIA and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, starting Oct. 31. US Airways, with four daily departures, has long been the only carrier flying nonstop from TIA to the airport across the Potomac River from the nation's capital.

Steve Huettel can be reached at shuettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Groups try to create political pressure to make airline fees more transparent 09/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 9:16pm]
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