April 27 - Dear U.S. Air Travelers

Dear U.S. Air Travelers,

Recent shocking customer service conduct by both United Airlines and American Airlines underscores that now, more than ever, consumers need and deserve greater competitive choice in air service. If these two airlines, and their oligopoly partner in international air service, Delta Air Lines (collectively “the Big 3”) want to be callous and take customers for granted, the Trump Administration must ensure passengers have options to vote with their wallets to take their business elsewhere. Let’s face reality, competition, not altruism by the Big 3 or a natural instinct by them to do the right thing, is the key to get them to shape-up.

Not surprisingly, the Big 3 are fighting to eliminate international air service competition.Their goal is to prevent passengers from having competitive choice. For them, it is essential that passengers be captive so they can sustain their indifferent and unacceptable customer service philosophy.

Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars to properly train staff to treat customers respectfully and improve their travel experience, the Big 3 instead are lavishly spending that money on the most expensive lobbying campaign in U.S. aviation history. The objective of that desperate political campaign, that started over two years ago and has cost the Big 3 tens of millions of dollars, is the blocking of Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways (the “Gulf Carriers”) from offering U.S. consumers competitive alternatives. 

Why have the Gulf Carriers become such an expensive obsession for the Big 3? Simply put, the Gulf Carriers take a polar opposite view of passenger service. They have a well-earned reputation for being consumer-centric airlines that pride themselves on delivering customer service excellence. For instance, Emirates was named the top airline in world in 2016 by Skytrax. Qatar and Etihad were ranked second and sixth, respectively. The best showing for a Big 3 carrier? Delta was 35th, with United at 68th and American at 77th.

The news was no better in the recently released global airline ranking by TripAdvisor users. Again, Emirates was ranked the best airline in the world. American and United made the TripAdvisor list, but not the one any airline wants to be on. TripAdvisor users rated American and United to be the 7th and 11th worst airlines in the world, respectively. Delta avoided TripAdvisor’s worst airline list but it also is absent from that list of the world’s top airlines.

As such is easy to see the true reason why the Big 3 feel so threatened by the Gulf Carriers. All the talk about purported subsidies and hollow allegations of unfair competition is just political spin. If the Big 3 were honestly concerned about alleged subsidies, and confident they could make a fact-based case, they would have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) under the International Air Transportation Fair Competitive Practices Act (IATFCPA) more than two years ago when they launched their political campaign. Had they filed an IATFCPA complaint instead of mounting their lobbying campaign, that has wasted millions of shareholder dollars, by statute DOT would have been required to rule on it almost two years ago. Their failure to file an IATFCPA complaint tells all you need to know in that they have no case and they know it.

Instead, this is a desperate attempt by the Big 3 to prevent U.S. consumers from experiencing the customer-first ethos of the Gulf Carriers. Such a passenger-centric focus is antithetical to the attitude and actions of the Big 3. It threatens the lowest common denominator customer service strategy that they have apparently jointly implemented to attempt to force U.S. passengers to have low expectations and to settle for unacceptable service. 

How did we get to this depressing state of play today where the Big 3 can treat passengers with contempt because they no longer must compete vigorously on service? That’s the U.S. government’s fault.  Poor decisions allowed the political muscle of the Big 3 to prevail over the best interests of consumers. Between approving mergers in rapid succession, and handing out like Halloween candy blank-check grants of immunity that shield the Big 3 and their foreign airline alliance partners from competition oversight, meaningful competition has virtually disappeared. 

No wonder the Big 3’s oligopoly profits are soaring while customer service nosedives. Today, divvied up among them, the Big 3 and their alliance and joint venture partners control more than 80 percent of the seats in the U.S.-Europe market. The result is that consumers pay more than ever for less service, and passengers have become resigned to abysmally low air travel expectations (and often even then the Big 3 cannot meet them).

The next time you hear the Big 3 whine about the Gulf Carriers and our Open Skies agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, remember that is code for their plea to preserve the status quo with its insufficient competition, alarming decline in customer service and no light at the end of the tunnel. 

If like I do, you believe the status quo is wholly unacceptable and vigorous competition is needed to force the Big 3 to shape-up, urge the Trump Administration (email addresses below) to support America’s decades old successful Open Skies policy and to fully honor the existing rights of Gulf Carriers to provide U.S. air travel consumers with a competitive alternative. More competition is the answer. Without it, the passenger experience undoubtedly can and will go from bad to even worse. 


Kevin Mitchell














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