Mon, 07 Mar 2005

Flight ads mislead consumers: House

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

"I'm leaving on a jetplane..." is a song that is being hummed more often in this country as budget airline competition allows more people to fly.

"I would have never imagined that a Jakarta-Surabaya flight could cost less than what I pay for a taxi ride to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport," said Arima Dharmasarie, 54, a south Jakarta resident who traveled about once every two months to Surabaya.

But while the deals look good on paper, experience has taught frequent flyers, such as Arima, that the low flight fares aggressively advertised by airlines or travel agents are not always the price consumers get when they buy them.

"There is nothing wrong with promoting low fares through advertising as long as it is done transparently," said Azwar Anas, a lawmaker at House of Representatives Commission V, which overseas transportation, during a hearing with airline operators last week.

To ensure they are not breaking the law by misleading or deceiving consumers, airlines needed to clarify the particulars of the fares to their customers, including the "subclassing" going on, Azwar said.

Subclassing -- smaller divisions of economy class seat prices -- is popularly used by air carriers as an income management strategy.

AdamAir, which has been operating for a year now, divide their seats into seven subclasses, differing in validity periods. Lion Air, another budget airline, classifies its economy seats into five subclasses.

As a promotion strategy, advertisement generally announce the lowest subclass fares, mentioning "price starts from" and "one way" in tiny fonts.

However, the lowest fares are usually known to apply only for two to three rows of seats.

The commission has strongly urged airlines to provide more information about subclassing and pricing.

"What consumers do not know is how many subclasses there are, what define each of them and how many seats are available at each advertised price," said Anas.

The Indonesian National Air Carriers Association (INACA) secretary general Tengku Burhanuddin told the commission airlines grouped under his association (17 out of the total 24 local air carriers) had not placed these kind of low price advertisements in the media.

"If these are ads from our members, they are probably being placed by travel agents instead of the airlines themselves," Burhanuddin said.

Lion Air public relations manager Hasyim Arsal Alhabsi said that the strategy was never meant to confuse consumers.

Instead it provided more opportunities for everyone to fly, he said. (003)