April 30 - U.S. House Committee To Question Airlines Over Horrifying Passenger Treatment

 

BTC Proposes Tough Questions

Business Travel Coalition today provided detailed customer-focused questions to Congress that airlines should be required to answer. On May 2, 2017 the full U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will conduct a hearing to examine consumer issues in commercial aviation. This momentous hearing comes in the aftermath of gross mistreatment of passengers aboard United Airlines and American Airlines flights. Four U.S. airlines and one consumer advocate are expected to testify.

The root-cause-problem of passengers' recent horrifying treatment is broken corporate cultures that are utterly unaligned with consumers’ interests. The solutions include substantially increased competition, consumer protections and structural reform to legally empower consumers in a massively consolidated airline industry.

The major U.S. network airlines have waged a two-year war on the Gulf carriers demanding that the Obama and Trump Administrations put an end to those carriers’ entry into U.S. markets. There is an undeniable correlation between that war and passenger treatment. However, those network airlines think that they deserve protection from competition - the one necessary condition to enable a cultural transformation at their airlines.

Questions That Need To Be Asked

1 - Mr. Munoz, United Airlines’ atrocious treatment of Dr. David Dao would not have happened on Etihad, Singapore, Emirates, Norwegian or Qatar airlines. Their customer-centered cultures would not allow it. I trust that you agree that United’s culture needs to be completely realigned with the interests of your customers - referred to as guests by the Gulf carriers. What steps are you taking to fundamentally reform your company’s culture?

2 – Ms. Philipovitch, American Airlines on the one hand is demanding that the Trump Administration block Gulf carrier expansion into U.S. markets due to what you allege are “unprecedented” government subsidies. Yet, on the other hand, two of those carriers, Etihad and Qatar, are strategic partners whom you have invited to join your and oneworld’s network. How can you accept the benefits you enjoy from your partnerships with those carriers while demanding U.S. government protection?

3 - Mr. Munoz, United Airlines is a staunch advocate for free market forces, and often complains that your industry is not treated like others. Your industry enjoys the fewest consumer protections of perhaps all others, including immunity from an important class of consumer lawsuits. In virtually all other industries consumers have the right to sue suppliers for unfair and deceptive practices, and in doing so, provide the discipline necessary to prevent suppliers from trampling on consumers’ rights and interests. If you believe in the free market, let it work here. Give airline consumers the power to fight back. See what happens. Let the system work. Do you support restoring the right of airline consumers to sue for deceptive and unfair practices – a right that would help transform major U.S. network carriers’ broken cultures? Stated differently, since other interstate industries operate in marketplaces subject to normal legal restraints, why should airlines be treated differently?

4 - Mr. Sprague, some independent U.S. airlines have been particularly outspoken on the issue of antitrust immunity for joint ventures between U.S. and foreign airline partners. Given the scorched earth war on competition by major U.S. airlines and their European partners, in Alaska Airline’s view, do these grants of immunity still serve consumer interests? How can such immunities negatively impact your airline and all airlines’ customers? Should there be regular reviews of these grants with a public docket and a role for the U.S. Department of Justice?

5 - Mr. Sprague, Alaska Airlines benefits from the ability to punch above its competitive weight in part because of your airline’s partnership with foreign airlines. Can you speak to how those foreign partnerships benefit your customers – and the customers of the airlines you compete against -  and what risk you see in the current attacks on U.S. Open Skies policy from certain of your colleagues here today?

6 - Mr. Jordan, Southwest Airlines knows well that the major U.S. network airlines “sit on” take off and landing slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and LaGuardia Airport. The excessive use of small aircraft represents an enormous, self-serving waste of scarce resources that locks out new competitors, enables monopoly airfare levels and over time effectively provides the major U.S. network airlines with billions of dollars in government-endorsed subsidies on the backs of consumers. If those slots were turned over to award-winning airlines like Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska, would the customer experience improve on all airlines serving those airports?

7 - Mr. McGee, are you satisfied that the changes to airlines’ contracts of carriage promised today will solve the customer problems that this hearing was called to examine?

8 - Mr. McGee, as perhaps the foremost airline consumer advocate in the United States, and since you are slightly outnumbered on this panel by airline CEOs, I want to ask you a follow-up question. If you could make just one structural change on behalf of airline consumers, what would it be?

9 - Mr. Munoz, and other witnesses who desire to comment, suppose for the moment that only cars from U.S. were allowed on our roads. The world would be different and, I submit, not for the better. Are you open, if there is reciprocity with other countries, to foreign carriers transporting passengers between U.S. cities, especially in underserved markets or communities that have been abandoned due to the dramatic results of the network carriers’ efforts to massively consolidate the domestic U.S. commercial aviation industry?


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