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House approves bill letting airlines advertise pre-tax fares, over consumer complaints

WASHINGTON - The House rejected consumers' complaints and passed legislation Monday letting airline advertising emphasize the base price of tickets, before taxes and fees are added in a victory for U.S. airlines and their workers' unions.

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.

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 chief sponsors — House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Republican, and Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, — have named the 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.

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, a Democrat, 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.

The Canadian Press

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