DOT is a prime example of Trump’s failure to drain the swamp in DC
On a day when the President’s spokesperson repeated over and over that President Trump is draining the swamp in Washington and eliminating special interests, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is a shining example of an agency that has been captured by the very special interest that it is supposed to regulate.
The DOT actions last week when they withdrew even the discussion of misleading and deceptive behavior by the airlines, is clearly a slap in the face to the American public that DOT is supposed to be protecting. It is one thing to remove a regulation that is old or obsolete. It is another to stop consideration of a failure of the political system that has been the focus of intense debate for half a decade.
In the crosshairs of discussion is the airline industry’s continued effort to obscure the total cost of flying. There is nothing more dangerous, it seems, to the airline powers that be than allowing consumers to know the full cost of flying. Airlines do not want the public to make informed comparison shopping decisions when purchasing airline tickets. If the airlines would only release their precious baggage and seat reservation fees — together with the fee exemptions to the public — it would change the system of purchasing airline tickets.
A family of four could ask for comparative prices across airlines for a trip from New York to Los Angeles where a family wants to sit together, carry on four bags, and check two bags. That is not too much for the public to ask. However, airlines refuse to release their prices so that programmers can create software that can allow families to do just that.
Knowing how much a traveler and a family will pay for the total cost of travel will allow the free market to work.
The abandonment of even a pretense of protecting consumer interests against the rapacious actions of a consolidated airline industry is, frankly, disheartening. However, it is not a reason for consumer advocates to retreat, but a reason to redouble our efforts.
It is as though the aviation consumers’ police force has decided not to do their jobs for the majority of the flying public.
- Though no rules have been rolled back, only proposed rulemakings have been withdrawn, consumers need to register concern with a DOT that is no longer working for airline passengers.
- Regulations are not being enforced. Airline fines have been downsized to where violations of current consumer protection rules are pocket change to airlines. Examples are:
- Providing denied boarding compensation rules in writing to passengers faced with involuntarily denied boarding
- Providing compensation rules in writing to passengers whose checked baggage is damaged, delayed, or lost.
- Laws passed by Congress are not being enforced. DOT has not completed rulemakings for laws already passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the President. Congress gave DOT a deadline of one year to prepare regulations for these laws. DOT has ignored the instructions of Congress.
- The Families Sitting Together Act rulemaking has not been completed.
- A new law that would refund airline-imposed checked- baggage fees has not been completed
- DOT has failed to hold a meeting of the Advisory Committee for Consumer Protection in the past year. At the moment the committee is in limbo because of FAA reauthorization uncertainty.
- Even passenger safety is being ignored. FAA has not shown that planes can be safely evacuated. Current airline seating has less and less legroom and width while the American public is getting larger. FlyersRights.com took the FAA to court and won their request for this test information. A response is expected this month.
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.