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Senate report calls for crackdown on airline fees

Senate report calls for crackdown on airline fees
Passengers load their carry-on bags into overhead bins on a United Airlines flight at Denver International Airport. A report from a Senate committee recommends a crackdown on passenger fees. (Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)

Eric Rose knew that he would take a financial hit when he needed to reschedule a flight home with his wife, Marci, after dropping off their son at college in Tucson. After all, he had bought two $160 nonrefundable tickets.

But Rose, a partner in a Los Angeles government relations and communications firm, was caught off guard by the fine print on his American Airlines tickets that said he had to pay $400 in change fees to rebook.

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"I'm a pretty savvy consumer and I understand the English language, but this stuff is written in legalese," he complained. "It's mind-boggling."

A staff report from the Senate Commerce Committee agrees with Rose. The report, released last week, calls for a crackdown on passenger fees and recommended that airlines produce a standardized chart to disclose all extra charges, making it easier for fliers to understand what they must pay.

As far as change fees go, the report suggested that the charges be limited to a "reasonable amount" and reduced or eliminated if a flier cancels with enough lead time to let the airline to resell the seat.

The report, written by the staff of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, noted that booking a round-trip flight on United Airlines from Washington, D.C., to Orlando, Fla., with a stopover in Chicago produced 54 pages of rules and restrictions.

A trade group for the nation's airlines rejects the study's conclusions, saying, "It would be difficult to find an industry that is more transparent than airlines in their pricing."

"The fact that a record number of people are traveling this summer further demonstrates that customers always know what they are buying before they purchase," said Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for the trade group Airlines for America.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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