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Government Wants Airlines to Report More Fee Data

WASHINGTON (AP) — Airlines would have to report the fees they charge passengers and give more useful statistics about lost or damaged luggage and mishandled wheelchairs, under a Transportation Department rule proposed Friday.

Making airlines report more information about the amount and types of fees will make the total cost of flights more clear, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

"In an era of rising fees, passengers deserve better information about how airlines are performing," he said in a statement.

Airlines received $3.4 billion from baggage fees and $2.3 billion from reservation change fees in 2010. There is no federal excise tax on those fees, although they are counted when calculating income taxes.

Revenue from seating assignments and on-board sales of food, drinks, pillows, blankets, and entertainment also isn't subject to excise taxes. Airlines don't report revenue from those items separately to the government.

Taxes on airline tickets go toward subsidizing airports and the national's air traffic control system.

Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, said the association is reviewing the proposal.

"We support transparency, and believe customers should always know what products and services they are paying for," Lott said. "We also believe the airline industry, vital to our economy as a creator of jobs and mover of people and goods, needs to be treated like other global businesses and free from unnecessary regulatory burdens that add complexity and cost without delivering value."

Under the proposal, airlines would be required to report 16 additional categories of fees in addition to baggage and reservation change fees, the Transportation Department said.

Airlines already report the number of mishandled bags relative to the number of passengers flown. However, more passengers are choosing not to check bags to avoid fees, decreasing the number of checked bags overall.

Under the proposal, airlines would be required to report the total number of checked bags. That would allow passengers to compare the number of lost or damaged bags relative to the number of bags handled by the airlines, which is a more useful comparison, the department said.

In 2010, carriers reported a mishandled baggage rate of 3.57 per 1,000 passengers, an improvement over 2009's rate of 3.99.

The department said it is asking airlines to report mishandled wheelchairs in response to complaints from passengers who say they are reluctant to travel by air because they fear their wheelchairs or scooters will be delayed or the equipment may arrive damaged. The new information will enable passengers to determine which airlines have better records of handling wheelchairs.

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