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House grills execs over airline-imposed fees

July 14, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The friendly skies haven't been so friendly lately with carriers charging more for everything from baggage to extra leg room."It's extremely frustrating," said John Hendrickson, who paid a $25 baggage fee on United Airlines, and now that bag is lost. "I mean, they're so quick to charge fees and there's no recourse if they make a mistake."

The chief executive officer of Spirit Airlines, which will begin imposing fees for carry-on bags starting in August, got an earful from lawmakers on Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

"Did you realize more by unbundling and charging them a little bit less on the fare but a lot more for the bag?" Congressman Peter Defazio (D-Ore.) asked Spirit President Ben Baldanza.

Airlines collected $7.8 billion last year in ancillary fees, most of which used to be included in the price of a ticket.

In a new report, the Government Accountability Office insists many of those fees are hidden.

"I would like to see there be a set fee for a ticket and you know what you're getting with that and you don't have all these hidden costs," said Teresa Lusby, an airline passenger.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is making several recommendations so that all fees are disclosed to the customer up front.

They include:

  • Clear, full-price advertising.
  • Reimbursement of baggage fees when bags are misplaced or lost.
  • Provide travel booking services with accurate information on fees and costs.
  • Provide pricing that includes all taxes and extra fees so customers will know what they're purchasing.
"What I just want to say to the airlines is, if they don't exercise restraint, there's going to be a continuing outcry from the traveling public," said Congressman James Oberstar (D-Minn.). "And you're going to have some kind of regulation that you won't like."