All's Fare?

I got an e-mail yesterday from Southwest stating that they're complying with the Department of Transportation's new "Full Fare Advertising" rule. I assume they have no choice in the matter, but it's nice to know they're doing their part there.

I was surprised to learn that, even before this rule, quoted fares included a 7.5%(!) federal excise tax. Now, all the little fees that the government has devised for taxing air travel will be rolled into the quoted fare, rather than tacked on to the total after an itinerary is chosen. For a domestic, non-stop, round-trip flight, these fees amount to $31.80. For international travel, the fees can approach $100.

These new fare rules fall under the DOT's "Passenger Protections Regulations," but what exactly is the DOT trying to protect passengers from? If anyone can offer an explanation as to how we're being protected from anything other than "knowing just how much the federal government makes from commercial air travel," I would love to hear it.

I think we can all agree that a government must tax its citizens in order to function. Hell, even Grover Norquist admits this now. But we should also agree that every decision on how, where, and how much to tax people is an extension of policy preferences or positions. We can tax fuel by the gallon, but we should admit that this is a brutally regressive tax, and is on some level (since there's no direct injection, dollar-for-dollar of gas taxes into road and infrastructure maintenance) intended to curb consumption at the margin and capitalize on the inelasticity of demand for fuel.

I have no problem with taxing fuel, and I have no problem with taxing commercial air travel. I would just like transparency restored to the transactions.

I resent the government's efforts to hide their fees inside the retail price. Why not let airlines list all the taxes on separate line-items so travelers can see exactly how much of their money is not going to the airline? Why not let gas stations post pre-tax prices on their signs, so motorists can feel a little sticker shock every time they fill up?

And I realize that even the above suggestion is rooted in a policy preference. The preference in this case is: Let's remind everyone that government costs us all something. There's no such thing as a free lunch, and there's no such thing as a tax-free government.