Is IATA sounding the death knell for Australia’s consumer protection laws when it comes to advertising air fares, or is it on the wrong side of history?
Much depends on the answers when it comes to the growing confusion air ticket pricing causes for travellers here and abroad.
IATA, as explained in this ATW report, is campaigning on behalf of some powerful American members, against proposed US laws that would require all fares to be advertised as a final price including taxes and charges, which is the rule in Australia, and to a growing extent, elsewhere in the world.
However the arguments for opposing such consumer fairness as advanced by the organisation’s director general Tony Tyler, can’t be dismissed easily as US special pleading if the rise of add-on pricing for extras like food, boarding priority, seating selection, extra legroom and checked bags or even heavy carry-ons are taken into account.
(Note that in the body of the ATW story Tyler does extend the reach of the anti regulatory argument to all extras, not just taxes.)
These extras have already made domestic airfares a maze in this country for those who fly on low cost brands Jetstar and Tigerair, or buy overseas flights on Scoot, AirAsia X and Jetstar international services.
In the US and Canada the extra charges or options game is also played by most of the major legacy carriers, who sometimes seem to be trying to emulate Ryanair when it comes to ‘gotchas’ that inflate headline sales prices on their own and third party booking sites.
If this is truly an enduring trend, the Australian rules about ensuring a fair price comparison basis for shoppers will become increasingly irrelevant.
The libertarian position will prevail, which is that the law of the jungle should apply, ie, there is no law, and the sellers of goods and services can be as tricky and devious as they like while shoppers will owe it to themselves to become devious, cynical and street wise in order to query all prices, and do a lot of careful reading of the conditions, or guess which ones the sellers have withheld.
It’s an ugly prospect. It’s one in which brand values and loyalty become obsolete factors in airfare choices. But it may be where Australian consumer law is headed in general, and not just in airfares.
There does come a time where a good or well meaning law or set of principles can lose relevance. It could be coming to airfares sooner than we think.
The writer isn’t so much taking sides in this, but pointing out where things might be headed.