“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

TravelHaven News Brief – Airline passengers fighting back against hidden fees

Rob Lovitt, a travel writer on MSNBC.com reports that travelers and consumer groups are ‘mad as hell’ over backdoor pricing and lack of transparency in the airline industry, such as a $25 fee to check your first bag, $5 for an in-flight snack, $7 for a pillow and blanket. A coalition of three travel advocacy groups is fighting back.

The new MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com website is intended as a forum for travelers upset about unbundled airfares and unexpected fees. The site was developed by the Business Travel Coalition, the American Society of Travel Agents, and the Consumer Travel Alliance to share stories about surprise fees and circulate a petition protesting them.

This organized protest over hidden fees is a new shot in a battle that is gathering momentum as the deadline for comments on the latest proposals from the Department of Transportation (DOT) approaches on Sept. 23.

DOT seeks to widen the passenger protections laid out in tarmac-delay rules established last spring. The agency is proposing, among other things, fair-price advertising, increased compensation for denied-boarding situations (involuntary bumps), expanded tarmac-delay rules to cover small airports and international carriers, and better disclosure of baggage fees and other added charges.

The ancillary-fee issue promises the greatest impact on travelers. U.S. airlines took in $7.8 billion in ancillary revenues in 2009 — $2.7 billion of that in baggage fees — and they’re on pace to top number for 2010. À la carte airline fees have the attention of Congress, where Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) calls them “backdoor price increases” because they are charged for services and amenities that used to be included in the cost of flying.

About half of all airline tickets sold in the U.S. are through airline websites; the rest by third-party vendors — Expedia, Kayak, retail travel agents. On airline sites the fees aren’t always clearly displayed or easily discovered. Airlines are unwilling to share the ancillary cost data with the systems that support the vast majority of bookings. This makes comparison shopping practically impossible.

In the coming weeks, airline industry representatives will likely file their comments on the proposed regs. Transparency advocates will be busy organizing a ‘Mad as Hell Day’ on Sept. 23.