Fine Print and Asterisks To Be Barred from Airfare Ads

Beginning January 26th, the US airline industry is doing away with fine print in advertising. Airlines often advertise prices with unbelievably low prices, but place an asterisk next to the price, signifying that additional fees and taxes apply, sometimes as much as another 20 percent on top of the advertised price. But later this month, a new rule from the US Department of Transportation (DOT) will ban the use of asterisks in ads for airfares, and carriers will have to advertise the full price, including fuel charges, security fees and all other non-optional fees. The rule does not apply to optional fees like baggage charges or those for online meals or in-flight entertainment.

A group of airlines are working together to fight the rule, and filed a legal challenge in November in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The basis for the challenge, raised by Southwest Airlines and several smaller carriers, is that DOT has no proof that advertising base fares minus taxes and fees is unfair or deceptive conduct, as the agency claims. Despite the appeal, however, DOT says it will begin enforcing the rule January 26th, as planned. A spokesman for Southwest said the airline would abide by the rule when it goes into effect, but will vigorously pursue the appeal of the rule.