In late September, the DOT proposed requiring airlines and all air travel sellers to disclose baggage fees, change and cancellation fees, and any family seating fees at the same time basic ticket prices are disclosed. Airline editor Robert Silk recently spoke with Stewart Alvarez, president of the Travel Technology Association, which represents OTAs, metasearch sites and GDSs, about the proposal.
Question: Does the Travel Technology Association support disclosure requirements for ancillary fees?
A: The main thing that Travel Tech and its members have always stood for is transparency for consumers. I think the core of what the department and the administration are trying to address is really making sure that the consumer has access to all the relevant information about their trip.
Question: Are there any elements of what they presented that bother you?
A: Always, when you have a broad rule like this, where the regulator is trying to address several things, we want to make sure that things are addressed in the most effective and efficient way for the industry using best practices and industry standards. When you deviate from this, it can present challenges on the implementation side. And so for that reason we are actively reviewing all aspects of the rule and what the department is proposing so that we can weigh in to make sure that things are done in a way that is most effective for the industry.
Question: A potentially tricky part of this proposal is the requirement to find out how much it might cost a family traveling with someone 13 or under sitting together. There isn’t just one possible price. The cost at any moment on a given flight may depend on which row of seats the buyer chooses, for example. Could this be a challenge for OTAs, metas and GDSs?
A: I think that’s where we’re going to provide comments to help the department structure the rule in a way that makes sense. If you’re doing an initial search, you should also differentiate between an airline website, which is a single-carrier display, versus an OTA, which is a multi-carrier display. In a multi-carrier display, you may very well have carriers that have no baggage fees, no seat fees, so the fare is what you’re going to pay, versus others that charge different prices, whether it’s in-carriage, the first bag or the second bag, but also which seat on the plane you have. And to determine this, you need to choose the flight. You can’t do that with six different flights on the screen.
Travel Tech members always want to focus on the customer and make sure they are presented with all the options available to them. Here, with the aim of the department to increase transparency, as long as our members receive the information, it will be presented. And we’re used to presenting multi-carrier displays. So if you have six airlines, and they all have a different kind of country policy, assuming we go and use existing industry standards and best practices, I think we’ll be able to take the complexity out of the consumer. .
Question: Could it be easier for your members to standardize the displays because regulations will define exactly what airlines must display?
A: I don’t know that it’s that clean, but yes, if it was that clean that the airlines had to provide everything. If you look at the compulsion for countries, it’s only for a certain demographic. It’s for families traveling with children under the age of 13, which really begs the question: What about everyone else traveling? Don’t you think they want to sit together? If you’re traveling with your 15-year-old or 17-year-old, I assume they’d like to sit next to you too.
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