WASHINGTON — In a victory for airlines and their workers' unions, the House rejected consumers' complaints and passed legislation Monday letting airline advertising emphasize the base price of tickets, before taxes and fees are added.
The bipartisan legislation would roll back federal regulations that since 2012 have required ads to most prominently display the full ticket price. Under the bill, the base price would have to be the one most prominently shown in ads as long as taxes and fees are displayed separately, such as in footnotes or pop-up ads.
The measure was approved by voice vote, in which individual lawmakers' votes are not recorded. Such votes are used often for non-controversial bills, but they can also allow legislators avoid taking a public position on a touchy issue.
Groups representing airline passengers and companies that frequently rely on corporate travel say the bill's enactment would return the country to an earlier era of misleading and confusing advertising.
"Their main goal is to be able to offer the public a low-ball price," said Charlie Leocha, chairman of Travelers United, which represents people who travel.
But the airlines — backed by unions representing pilots, mechanics and flight attendants — say including taxes and fees in their advertised prices hurts business and hides from consumers the extra costs that government imposes on air travel. Supporters say the measure would make it clear to fliers just how much of a ticket's cost comes from federal taxes and fees.
"The rule effectively masks, I would argue hides, the current government-imposed taxes and fees on consumers," Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said during debate that lasted just 11 minutes.
The only other speaker Monday was Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who with Shuster sponsored the legislation. DeFazio mocked the current regulation's requirement that the full price must be shown more prominently in advertising.
"Talk about the nanny state," he said. "Give me a break. What do they think, Americans are idiots?"
Shuster and DeFazio named their bill the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014.
Critics say that title is Orwellian because the bill would actually make it less clear how much a ticket actually costs. They argue that under the existing regulation, airlines are free to display in their ads the taxes and fees that are added to ticket prices.
So far there is no companion bill in the Democratic-run Senate. It is unclear whether the legislation has much chance of enactment in the dwindling months of the current Congress.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has introduced legislation that would do the opposite of the House measure. It would turn the current regulations into law, and double — to $55,000 daily — fines imposed for violating the requirement.