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'Mad As Hell' site unites hidden airline fee opponents

By Marnie Hunter, CNN
Comments about proposed airline passenger protections, including a fee disclosure rule, are due Thursday.
Comments about proposed airline passenger protections, including a fee disclosure rule, are due Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Organizations to submit petition calling for clear disclosure of optional airline fees
  • Thursday is final day for public comments on new proposed airline passenger protections
  • Airline group: Some DOT rules "not practical or efficient"

(CNN) -- "Mad As Hell Day" falls on Thursday, according to a group of consumer and professional travel organizations that have banded together to oppose hidden airline fees.

To mark the day, the American Society of Travel Agents, the Business Travel Coaliton and the Consumer Travel Alliance submitted a petition with more than 50,000 signatures collected via MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com to the Department of Transportation in support of a proposed rule that would require airlines to clearly inform consumers about fees for optional services.

Thursday is the last day of a public comment period on a series of enhanced airline passenger protections proposed by the agency in June. The DOT expects to issue a final rule in spring 2011.

"It is absolutely imperative that consumers have the opportunity that they've had in the past to make comparative price decisions, to understand the total cost, the all-in price," said Paul Ruden, ASTA's senior vice president for legal and industry affairs.

The Mad As Hell group also supports the DOT's proposal to require airlines to provide the same information about optional airline fees to the distribution systems used by online and brick-and-mortar travel agencies. Fifty to 60 percent of airline revenue earned in the United States comes through these independent distributors, Ruden said.

Video: The battle over baggage fees
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The Air Transport Association of America, the nation's largest airline trade group, also plans to submit detailed comments about the proposed rules to the DOT on Thursday.

"We are working to provide more transparency, making it easier for customers to make decisions. Those recommendations will be further identified [Thursday], but there will be some of the DOT recommendations that simply are not practical or efficient," said David Castelveter, the ATA's vice president of communications.

"Let's not lose sight of the fact that the airlines today do provide a high level of transparency on their websites," he said.

The fees themselves are not the issue for the Mad As Hell organizations, but they say consumers must be able to compare prices of all-inclusive fares across airlines.

"[The fees] do reflect an increase in cost in air travel, for the most part. That said, the airline industry is an economic wasteland," Ruden said. "It has to have a means of functioning economically. The economy requires it and the public requires it."

Consumer fee outrage has been mounting as airlines increasingly "unbundle" charges for services that historically were included in the price of a ticket.

In the second quarter of 2010, airlines collected $2.1 billion in ancillary fees, which include charges for checked bags, ticket changes, pet transportation and other fees, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

That figure represents a 15 percent increase from the same quarter last year. Baggage fee revenue is up 33 percent for the second quarter year over year.