The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has added its voice to consumer advocates protesting airlines' failure to include new "fuel surcharges" in their advertised fares. But a month after first announcing the controversial $20-per-round-trip charge on domestic flights, several airlines were still hanging tough.
ASTA, a travel-agent trade association, has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to take "corrective action" against airlines that omit the surcharge from the computerized reservation system used by agents and from airline-owned Internet sites.
"By excluding these self-imposed surcharges from fare displays, the airlines benefit by luring consumers with fares lower than actually available for purchase," said Joe Galloway, ASTA president. Unmentioned but particularly galling to agents: The surcharge, when handled this way, may be excluded from commissions the airlines pay to travel agents, which are based on a percentage of the fare.
DOT rules allow airlines to exclude government-imposed charges such as taxes from fare quotes, said DOT spokesman Bill Mosley, adding that "a fuel surcharge is definitely not government imposed." But as of last week the DOT had taken no action except to e-mail the relevant rules to the airlines and was "still looking into the matter," he said.
Among several airlines surveyed last week, United, US Airways and Northwest were still omitting the fuel surcharge from initial fare quotes, spokespersons said; Continental and American said they were including it. "If the DOT issues some order or administrative ruling, we would do it [the surcharge] whatever way they tell us," said Northwest spokesman Jon Austin.