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American vs. Orbitz: Neither really wants to clear the air

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And how about travelers? I asked readers of this column whether they had any thoughts on this travel industry altercation. The response: a collective shrug. "If I never saw American Airlines on a Web site again, it would be OK," wrote David Kazarian, a reader from St. Petersburg, Fla.

But Steve Lapekas, an executive vice president at Pegasus Solutions, a reservations technology company, and a former American employee, says that the dispute is about to change the way people buy tickets, if it hasn't already. "It's very likely that travelers will start shopping the airline sites, where airlines will claim they can find the best price," he says.

Beyond the hyperbole and arguments, here's what should change: The Transportation Department needs to approve a proposed new airfare and airline fee transparency rule that would require any airline or ticket agency to quote an all-inclusive price for an airline ticket right up front and allow air travelers to easily compare the true cost of travel across airlines.

The technology already exists, apart from Direct Connect, to specify which extras - such as a checked bag, in-flight Internet connections or a sandwich - we want with our tickets. We should be able to tell airlines or agencies what we want right up front and be allowed to compare our preferences and the final prices across all available airlines, instead of being hit with surprise fees after buying a nonrefundable ticket.

Both sides in this quarrel claim that they want to disclose a complete airfare along with optional fees as soon as possible, so they should have no objections to such proposed regulation.

Do passengers want that? You bet. The DOT recently received a letter signed by more than 50,000 passengers asking it to mandate airfare and airline fee transparency. But this might also be a good time for air travelers to remind their elected representatives that they don't like the pricing games that are being played behind the scenes and that airfare transparency should be required by law.

If it isn't, then the winner of this argument won't matter, just the losers. Which will be all of us.

Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate. E-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.


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