As oil prices continue to linger at or near their lowest point in years, airlines are facing new criticism of their ongoing fuel surcharges – or more often now, other vaguely-defined surcharges that replaced them – and interests representing travelers want the Transportation Department to intervene.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D.-Conn.) this week released a letter he sent to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx asking for a DOT investigation of carrier-imposed surcharges that “mislead and possibly deceive consumers.”
DOT in 2012 banned airlines from imposing fuel surcharges unless they were directly linked to fuel costs. And after fuel prices went into their downward spiral in recent years, “most airlines dropped ‘fuel charges’ and began assessing consumers other vaguely-worded charges such as ‘international/domestic surcharges’ and ‘carrier-imposed charges,’ which seem to have no relation to any additional costs borne by the airlines,” Blumenthal wrote. In some instances, he said, the fees are larger than the actual base fare charged by the airline.
Blumenthal noted that the fees “sometimes only surface when a consumer attempts to redeem an award ticket,” a circumstance that “seems to further confirm the deceptive nature of these surcharges.” He cited fine print in Delta’s SkyMiles rules which includes hint that redeeming a “free” award ticket may cost the customer “’up to $600 for foreign government taxes and fees and/or carrier-imposed fees for international itineraries;’” and that Delta “’reserves the right to change fees or add additional fees at any time without advance notice.’”
Secretary Foxx got another letter this week from the Business Travel Coalition, requesting a “thorough and in-depth investigation” of airlines’ ongoing assessment “of often-sizeable fuel surcharges on many itineraries,” in violation of DOT rules about justifying such charges.
“We call on DOT to hold the airlines assessing fuel surcharges, by any term or language, to account — by requiring them to substantiate on a route-by-route basis that the charges do indeed reflect the actual costs of fuel per passenger over some baseline amount,” BTC wrote.
Readers: Have you had any unpleasant surprises with unexpected or extreme surcharges? Should the government intervene? Post comments below.
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