Airlines seek to hide taxes and fees in airfare prices

Congress is about to be tested on how much sway the airline industry holds over consumers on Capitol Hill.

So far, the industry is winning.

The Associated Press reports a bill filed in March to repeal the law that requires airlines to tell you exactly how much a ticket costs is zipping along without any accountability. It passed a key committee on a voice vote, apparently so that no congresspeople could be identified as being in favor of it.

The industry says other businesses don’t have to reveal the total cost — including taxes and fees — in advertising, so it shouldn’t have to either.

“Consumers are better served when they can buy airfares like they buy any other product,” Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of Airlines for America, which represents major carriers, tells the AP. “I think what’s confusing is to have airfares treated differently.”

Says the AP:

The department is at work on another round of rules that would require airlines to disclose some add-on fees when they advertise fares. Since 2008, airlines have been unbundling fares, charging for many services that used to be included in the ticket price. Fees vary by airline, but passengers may now be charged extra for an assigned seat, early boarding, a meal, curbside check-in or carry-on bags, among other services.

“I am fed up with the hidden fees and the misleading advertising of prices, which makes it difficult to compare rates,” one frequent flyer wrote the Transportation Department. “I’m tired of being at their mercy.”

Airlines for America has stepped up its Washington lobbying since Nick Calio, the top White House lobbyist under former President George W. Bush, took over as its chief in 2011. Sean Kennedy, an Obama White House lobbyist, joined the association last year.

Thirty airlines spent nearly $30 million on lobbying and employed 213 lobbyists last year, according to the political money-tracking website

The bill, called the Transparent Airfares Act, is being shepherded by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

The biggest recipient of airline industry campaign cash? Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania.