DOT abandons the public interest and embraces the airlines’ interests
Sadly, this article written in 2018 is still true.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has been captured by the airlines. It abandons the public interest. The very industry that the DOT was established to regulate is now beginning to exert its influence with DOT. The latest letter from DOT to the Senate Commerce Committee is a precedent-breaking effort to affect legislation in favor of airlines against the public interest.
1. DOT now parrots airline propaganda
DOT just sent a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee in which it abandons the public interest. In that letter, DOT repeats the airline mantra that airfares are at historic lows when adjusted for inflation. It does not look at the scores of ancillary fees and outrageous change and cancellation fees added to airfares since 2008. DOT fails to examine the service changes forced on airline passengers since the turn of the century. DOT does not examine the technology improvements, such as larger aircraft and denser seating configurations that allow airline fixed costs to be spread across greater numbers of passengers. And, DOT fails to note that the aviation industry is making greater profits today, while they provide less customer care. Plus, while the current consumer protection rules, which airlines want to be repealed, were put into effect, airline industry profits soared.
2. Eliminated study of transparent airfares rules
Immediately after asking for and receiving suggested rules and regulations to eliminate, DOT eliminated the consideration of a new rule that would require airlines to tell consumers the full cost of travel prior to the purchase of an airline ticket. This cost would include airfare plus the public availability of all ancillary fees, as well as the various exceptions for those fees. This way, shopping software could be created that would provide the lowest prices based on the full price of travel rather than only on airfare, which is the case today.
DOT noted that the full price of travel including flight-specific and passenger-specific charges is of little value to airline consumers. That is an amazing statement when every study and even the airlines know that price is the primary decision-making factor on airline ticket purchase. Without transparent ancillary fees consumers cannot effectively comparison shop for airfares. DOT abandons the public interest even when it comes to maintaining the free market.
3. No meeting of Advisory Committee for two years
Of course, DOT has scores of reasons why the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection has not met, but by reasons totally within DOT control, this congressionally mandated advisory committee has not met for almost two years. DOT abandons the public interest when it does not convene the only advisory committee for consumer protections.
4. No rules for Families Sitting Together Act
In July of 2016 Congress passes and the President signed legislation that mandated that DOT create a rulemaking to allow families and their children 13 years old and younger to sit together without additional payments. For almost 24 months, DOT has done nothing to even start the process of creating rules and regulations that can be put in the federal regulations that will allow families to sit together without additional seat reservation payments. Some families of four may have to pay about $800 to sit together on many roundtrip flights because DOT abandons the public interest.
5. No rules for refunds of checked-baggage fees when delivery delayed
In every other industry in America, when a business does not provide the service for which a consumer has paid, the cost of that service must be refunded. Since airlines are now charging specific fees for checked baggage and promising to deliver that checked baggage at the destination, when it does not arrive with the flight or when it is lost, the checked-baggage fees must be refunded to passengers. DOT created a rule to handle the refund of baggage fees when luggage is lost. However, when baggage is delayed, Congress declared that the airlines needed to refund the fees for not providing a service as promised. DOT abandons the public interest when is has not begun the rulemaking process for this bill that was passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President.
Travelers United is working diligently to get DOT back on the job as a protector of passengers and not a protector of the airlines.
Finally: Though a group of the largest consumer organizations has requested a meeting with the Secretary of Transportation to discuss the rescinding of regulations and the need for new consumer protections, the Secretary of Transportation has not agreed to a meeting with these consumer groups. We are still awaiting her response to our letter submitted months ago.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.