Consumer panel: Airlines should disclose fees, seat size

WASHINGTON (AP) — Airlines should clearly disclose the cost of change and cancelation fees, as well as the size of the plane's seats, before a passenger buys a ticket, a federal panel said Tuesday.  Hotels should also be required to include any mandatory fees in their room rates, the Department of Transportation's Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections recommended.

Some hotels have begun adding mandatory resort and other fees to bills even though customers say they weren't informed of them when they booked their rooms. The panel's recommendation on hotels was directed to the Federal Trade Commission, which has been investigating such so called "drip pricing."

Likewise, the panel heard testimony that passengers must search to find the cost of change or cancelation fees that airlines hide in a ticket's fine print. The fees can run hundreds of dollars, especially on international flights.

Airlines have also shrunk the distance between a seat and the seat in front by as much as 6 inches in recent years. It used to be that 34 inches between the seats was standard for economy class seats. But now 31 inches is typical and some airlines have wedged in so many seats that there is as little as 28 inches of room. The width of seats has also been reduced in some cases.

Seat shrinkage has raised concern that passengers may get blood clots if they sit for a long time without the ability to move around, and that passengers may not be able to quickly evacuate a plane in an emergency.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires that aircraft makers demonstrate that all passengers on an airliner can be evacuated within 90 seconds with half the emergency exits blocked in order for the plane to be certified. Many of the types of airliners flying today were tested before airlines reduced the room between seats, said Charlie Leocha, a consumer advocate on the panel.