The new FAA reauthorization bill includes a provision by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., that would effectively turn the entire business of air travel upside down. The so-called FAIR (Forbid Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous Fees Act) Fees Act targets any fee for a change or cancellation of a reservation for a flight in interstate air transportation, any fee relating to checked baggage to be transported on a flight in interstate air transportation; and any other fee imposed by an air carrier relating to a flight in interstate air transportation.
This bill would be terrible news for consumers.
Over the past decades, air travel has revolutionized the way we go on holidays and visit friends and family. Especially for low-income consumers, the massive decrease in airfares has been a blessing. In fact, airfares have halved since 1978.
Another change in the way we book tickets was introduced during that time: instead of including all possible features during travel (food and drinks, checked bags, reserved seating, etc.) airlines have chosen to make those services optional. Those travelling with little to no luggage on short trips have made immense savings through this type of billing.
Unfortunately, politicians have exploited the language, notably that of calling it a "fee", to tell consumers that they are the victims of greedy airlines. "With all the frills of flying already gone, airlines are increasingly resorting to nickel and diming consumers with outrageous fees. These runaway charges are anti-consumerism at its worst — in some cases doubling passenger fares despite plummeting fuel costs and soaring airline profits.
A parent who wants to sit with his young child, a customer who wants to check or carry on a bag, or have Wi-Fi, or a traveler who needs to change or cancel a reservation should not incur exorbitant, unnecessary fees on the whim of an airline," says Sen. Blumenthal.
But Blumenthal is wrong. Instead of considering them as fees for additional services, many consumers are happy to be able to opt out of services they weren’t going to use in the first place.
As always, it seems to be that the name of the bill is usually the opposite of what it contains. Banning airlines from charging any type of extra fee will lead the companies to re-incorporate all the charges into the average ticket price. Baggage allowances, Wi-Fi or food and drinks will be available to those passengers who wouldn't have used them anyway, but will now be required to pay for them.
Adding to that: if all fares are fully refundable, airlines will see many last minute cancellations by passengers and we will see many empty seats on planes. Being unable to get a good estimate how many passengers are actually going to fly (and pay) will lead airlines to increase the average ticket price.
This bill would lead to higher air fares, which will particularly hurt low-income consumers, which were, up until now, benefiting from low fares. FAIR Fees will limit consumer choice and make air travel less affordable for the average American.
Bill Wirtz is a political commentator currently based in Belgium. His articles have been published by Newsweek, The American Conservative, the Washington Examiner, Le Monde, and Le Figaro. He is a Young Voices Advocate, a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education, and works as a Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Center. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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