Airlines say they should be able to able to advertise their fares the same way hotels, car rental agencies and other businesses do — by advertising the price of their service and adding in taxes and fees before the final purchase.
"Consumers are better served when they can buy airfares like they buy any other product," said Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of Airlines for America, which represents major carriers. "I think what's confusing is to have airfares treated differently."
The measure's supporters also say the industry is overtaxed. They want airlines to be able to break out taxes and fees so that consumers can see how much of their ticket price goes to the government. The industry says taxes are about 21 percent of a typical $300 round-trip domestic ticket.
The rush left no time for consumer input, their advocates say. "We're very concerned a piece of legislation that can have such a broad effect was moved through without any consultation. I was just shocked by this," said Bill McGee, an aviation consultant for Consumers Union.
He said the title of the bill, The Transparent Airfares Act, smacks of Orwellian doublespeak since it would make airfares less transparent by allowing airlines to conceal the full purchase price.
Transportation Department officials say airlines are free under current rules to spell out taxes and fees so long as the full price is more prominent.
The fight over how to present fares is part of an ongoing clash between airlines and the administration over passenger rights. During President Barack Obama's first term, the Transportation Department issued several far-reaching aviation consumer regulations, beginning with a ban on so-called "tarmac strandings" in which passengers were cooped up in planes for hours, sometimes in miserable conditions.
Other recent regulations include allowing passengers to cancel reservations within 24 hours without penalty, tougher requirements for compensating passengers denied boarding because of overbooking and bag fee disclosure requirements.