United Airlines announces new policy on extra charges after Biden calls out 'junk fees'
In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden announced a yet-to-be-introduced bill that would ban some extra fees charged by airlines, event promoters, hotels, and telecommunications companies.
During his State of the Union address to Congress on Feb. 7, President Joe Biden criticized what he called the “junk fees” that airlines charge passengers for choosing seats so that families can sit together on airplanes.
Now United Airlines has announced a new policy it says will make it easier for family members to select seats together and avoid extra charges.
In a public relations statement posted to its website on Feb. 20, the corporation said:
United today announced an improved family seating policy that makes it easier than ever for children under 12-years old to sit next to an adult in their party for free – including customers who purchase Basic Economy tickets. … Customers traveling with children under 12 will start to see more adjacent seat options immediately and the complete policy change will go into effect in early March. In instances when adjacent seats are not available prior to travel – due to things like last minute bookings, full flights or unscheduled aircraft changes – United’s new policy also lets customers switch for free to a flight to the same destination with adjacent seat availability in the same cabin. Customers also won’t be charged if there is a difference in fare price between the original and new flight. … Today’s announcement reflects the investments United has made in its technology and tools.
In his speech, Biden described “junk fees” as “those hidden surcharges too many businesses use to make you pay more.”
“Junk fees may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter to most folks in homes like the one I grew up in. They add up to hundreds of dollars a month,” Biden said. “They make it harder for you to pay the bills or afford that family trip.”
In addition to fees associated with traveling, Biden also criticized additional fees charged by banks for overdrafts and credit card late fees.
Biden said his administration has written a Junk Fee Prevention Act that would ban surprise resort fees charged by hotels, cap service fees attached to tickets to sports events and music concerts, prevent cable and cellphone companies from assessing charges for changing providers, and stop airlines from charging families the extra fees for booking seats next to each other.
“Baggage fees are bad enough – they can’t just treat your child like a piece of luggage,” he said.
Since Biden took office, a number of government agencies have issued federal rules and advisories aimed at curbing junk fees.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Feb. 1 proposed a rule that would further regulate late fees charged by credit card companies to prevent “excessive” charges for consumers. The agency said it estimated that such fees cost American families $12 billion a year and that implementation of the new rule could reduce that amount by as much as $9 billion. The bureau also released guidance on Oct. 26, 2022, instructing banks on fees for overdrafts that could be considered “unfair and unlawful” under existing law.
The Department of Transportation on Oct. 20, 2022, proposed a rule that would require airline companies to disclose up front the full cost of tickets, including baggage fees. The department also published a “customer service dashboard” that shows airline policies for handling flight cancellations or delays caused by the airlines themselves.
According to the White House, the dashboard’s publication led nine airlines to cover hotel fees in the case of a cancellation and 10 airlines to cover the cost of meals. In both instances, the coverage was not guaranteed under the companies’ previous policies.
A new rule adopted on Nov. 17, 2022, by the Federal Communications Commission requires broadband providers to publish a “nutrition label”-style advisory showing consumers fees and information (like speed and data caps) associated with their services to better aid comparison shopping between providers.
The White House on Oct. 26, 2022, announced the President’s Initiative on Junk Fees and Related Pricing Practices, which specifies what sort of charges are considered “junk” fees and details the administration’s actions in combating them.
The administration singled out several industries — hospitality, banking, internet, and transportation — in which junk fees “account for tens of billions of dollars in revenue.”
The administration said the fees harm consumers and small and medium businesses, noting that junk fee costs disproportionally affect people of color and low-income households. For instance, a March 2022 study by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau found that credit card late fees “disproportionately burden consumers in low-income and majority-Black neighborhoods.”
Polling has shown widespread public support for efforts to crack down on these fees.
A Feb. 8-10 Morning Consult poll found that over 75% of respondents would “strongly” or “somewhat” support congressional action to reduce service fees on event tickets or eliminate fees for early cancellation of internet or cable TV service. A majority of voters across all political affiliations and in all age groups supported the proposals.
“Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on many things but paying less for concert tickets or to switch cable TV providers is one of them,” Morning Consult said.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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