A look at air travel this summer

Swissport employee Miroslaw Kaczorowski prepares to refuel a Southwest Airlines plane at the Oakland International Airport on February 24, 2011 in Oakland, Calif.

Bob Moon: If I may be so bold as to suggest the most popular summer pastime might no longer be baseball, but instead, throwing spitballs at the air travel industry. A lot of us are convinced it just gets worse ever year. It's been a year since Congress made the passenger bill of rights official. So how are we all, um, faring? Here to help us figure that out is George Hobica
at airfarewatchdog.com. George, thanks for traveling our way.

George Hobica: Good to talk with you again Bob.

Moon: Has the Passenger Bill of Rights made things better? It's been in place for how long now?

Hobica: Well, honestly, I don't think that that legislation affected that many people. I mean, it grabbed a lot of headlines, but the truth is, it was just a miniscule percentage of passengers who are stuck on a tarmac more than three hours. And I don't think there are a lot of rules -- especially in this latest round of DOT regulations that are headline-grabber rules -- but they don't affect that many people.

Moon: Yeah, the government recently announced these new provisions, mostly about hidden fees. I can never figure out exactly what I'm going to pay until I actually hit the last button. What do these new rules require from the airlines regarding fees?

Hobica: Well, one really good rule that's probably going to affect a lot of people -- and it's another one of these headline grabber regulations -- is that the airlines have to place all of their fees -- any kind of fee, even for pets, not just luggage, but food -- on one page on their website. And there has to be a link from the home page to this fee page. It's something that RyanAir in Europe has been doing for a very very long time. You go to RyanAir.com and you'll see a link called "fees" and you go to the fees -- and they're not shy about those fees. There's list of about 20 different fees, including for lap children, for example.

Moon: Now the airlines didn't do this without kicking and screaming. I noted in one of the stories I read that Spirit Airlines compared this to being akin to McDonald's being required to only advertise burgers, including the price of fries and a Coke. Is that fair?

Hobica: Everyone who advertises any kind of product or service -- and not just in the travel industry -- they never include all the fees. Your mobile phone company doesn't do it, cruise lines don't do it, rental cars don't do it, hotels don't do it. Why is the DOT going after the airlines alone? So, I mean, I think the airlines do have a gripe there.

Moon: And when do these new disclosure rules take affect?

Hobica: The new rules come into affect 120 days after publication in the federal register, whenever that is. And I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the airlines try to contest some of these rules. Some of these rules affect a lot of people and some really are just what I call "headline grabbers" and they only affect a few.

Moon: What's the state of getting there by air, heading into this travel season compared to last?

Hobica: Definitely, air fares are higher. But there have been some pop-up sales. For example, from almost every major hub to Honolulu for summer travel went to $391, round-trip, including all taxes. It's also good for winter travel. So there are pop-up sales that happen, it's just that they disappear very very quickly; that's why we call them "pop up."

Moon: It also seems to me that carriers are starting to hide their discounts as well. I'm going to New York soon and here's the way I got a good fare: With help from airfarewatchdog.com, I caught wind of a promotional offer that was going on with this particular airline. But I had to go to a website, sign up for something there in order to get a special code to use for discounted fare. And I got 30 percent off the fare. It was a really valuable code. Are you seeing more of that sort of thing?

Hobica: Yeah, absolutely Bob. I think the airlines are really trying to drive traffic to their sites, so they can eliminate the middleman -- the middlemen being sites like Kayak and Expedia and Trip Advisor and others.

Moon: But you really need to look for these things. They aren't flashing in big red lights on their websites. Sometimes they're on other sites.

Hobica: You go to sign up for the airline's e-mail alert streams and that's how you find out about them. So you go to the airline website and you'll see "Sign up for our e-mails!" and then they send you discount codes and promotions. I just tell people to sign up for airfare alerts. I mean, airfarewatchdog sends them out there. Many other sites that do it: Bing Travel does it, Trip Advisor Flights does it, Travelocity, Hot Wire, Expedia... They all send out airfare alerts. The best way though is absolutely to sign up for tweets. Tweets are much faster than any other method. E-mail unfortunately can be slow. When you have millions of e-mails that you have to send out, your servers can get clogged and by the time you see the e-mail, the sale is gone. So I would definitely look at Twitter as a way to find out about sales. And they are out there, absolutely. They just last for a few hours or sometimes a day and then they're gone.

Moon: Bottom line is be alert and be prepared to spend your money.

Hobica: Be alert and shop a lot.

Moon: George Hobica of airfarewatchdog.com. Thank you very much for your insight.

Hobica: It's a pleasure.

Log in to post3 Comments

Google in the input: = ash ops.us ==you can find many brand names, even more surprising is that he will sell you the unexpected o(∩_∩)o

@Penelope, just FYI, I'm not a shill for the airline industry, as you can see from previous items I've written such as "8 Airline Regulations We Need Now" http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/blog/3802034/8-airline-regulations-we-nee... and Other Regulations I'd Like to See: http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/blog/7581644/other-airline-regulations-we... Just because I'm pointing out that the airlines will gripe about other travel industries not being asked to list all fees in ads, doesn't mean I work for the industry. I realize, as evidenced by your post, that there's a lot of anger out there, and I think if you reread the transcript carefully you'll agree that I am not against the airlines posting all their fees. Maybe you just read it too quickly.

Hello, I ordinarily love the show.

Hobica's analogy defending the practice of hiding fees by airlines as being fair because other related business do it too is no different than when a child says, "But they do it too!". Would we accept that excuse from a child about an action that was wrong?

When I was moving overseas, my future employer asked me about my preferences when buying my airfare ticket. Since my moving allowance was a set number, the choice of airline was important for its baggage fees. I searched high and low for what the baggage fees would be on all the airlines at my airport and could not find a definitive answer on ANY. I spent a lot of time on this. I ended up paying to park at my airport to ask the gate agents at every single desk and taking names. In my case, Continental would have been twice as expensive, essentially charging me twice for my luggage. This was important information that was not at all available on ANY airline's website, anywhere, and certainly not with the explanation that Continental gave. I think it is completely ridiculous that I had to go to the airport to talk to a person who could give an answer to my question, "How much will these bags cost? What do you consider excess weight for this trip?" and be held responsible for the information the company gave out.

The comparison to McDonald's having to advertise fries and pop in the price of a hamburger is NOT equal to having to pay to pay using any method (as Ryan Air does) and to check in by ANY method, those are just ways to hide the cost of the ticket. I'm disappointed you put an industry shill on. There isn't anyone looking out for the consumer and the loopholes have all already been written into the new laws by the airline lobbyists. Having a price list page is a nice bone they're throwing us, but they would never want to be treated as they treat others. The evidence for this is in the airlines' 10-Ks, their executives would never tolerate being treated as they treat customers. I'm sorry, but all the rest is just excuses.

With Generous Support From...