The Honorable Hillary Clinton
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz
Governor John Kasich
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
Mr. Donald Trump
Dear Presidential Candidates,
As founder of the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), which advocates on behalf of the managed-travel community, I write to you because at some level many of your supporters suspect that the major political parties rig the system against them across multiple industries, and they are understandably upset. The radically consolidated U.S. airline industry, which touches tens of millions of consumers, is the “Poster Child” for government capture where special interests set the Congressional agenda, seek to control political appointees’ decisions and enforce their priorities with the threat of lost financial support. BTC can assist your campaigns with bipartisan policy recommendations.
If your followers could see first hand and unfiltered how airlines and Washington work together to undermine consumers’ interests they would not be upset, but rather, white-hot-mad. Your supporters would only have to multiply the impact across all industries to grasp the order-of-magnitude of special-interest harm. Consumers should represent the “North Star” when it comes to national aviation and competition policy development. Consider the following three current examples of how airline consumers are harmed every day.
1. CONSUMER PROTECTIONS.
With full-throated support from House T&I Committee Chairman Bill Schuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) introduced an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill in response to airlines’ objections to a 2012 U.S. DOT rule that requires airlines to prominently display total ticket prices in advertising. The amendment would reverse an important consumer-protection rule adopted as a cure to bait-and-switch advertising and cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.
2. COMMERCIAL PROTECTIONISM.
Having secured antitrust immunity for their global alliances and achieved control over vast swaths of the U.S domestic airline market, the major U.S. network airlines are now endeavoring to raise the marketplace drawbridge and create an aviation Fortress America where they profit on the backs of consumers. These airlines are trying to dictate to the U.S. government, and all other stakeholders, adoption of a self-serving public policy that is designed to shelter them from vigorous international airline competition. They are collectively calling for the U.S. to roll back access to the U.S. marketplace for carriers such as Etihad, Emirates and Qatar that offer superior customer service, newer airplanes, faster connections and more destinations.
3. AIRLINE ACCOUNTABILITY.
Adding insult to injury, and unlike other consumer-facing industries, when consumers are economically harmed by unfair and deceptive airline practices they and their State Attorneys General have no right to sue to recover damages. Instead, airlines face fines for consumer abuses that the U.S. DOT decides to pursue. U.S. airlines had 2014 revenue of $169 billion and civil penalties imposed of $2.7 million. Because the civil penalties are minuscule, and as airlines are immunized from the threat of lawsuits, they are free to trample upon consumers’ rights and interests. When it deregulated the airline industry, Congress never intended that consumers would not have a private right of action. However, it should be no surprise that airlines fight hammer and tongs to maintain their privileged and unique position.
BTC is available to lead a process to identify, detail and vet high-impact aviation policy proposals to improve consumer protections, airline new entry and service to mid-size communities. The consumer, as the North Star, would drive the process and include the concerns and interests of all stakeholders including airports, State aviation authorities, State consumer protection officials, and importantly, State Attorneys General.
I look forward to hearing from your campaigns about this proposal.
Chairman & Founder
Business Travel Coalition
Phone: (610) 999-9247