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Debate on Airline Passenger Bill of Rights heats up

Now that the idea of a Airline Passenger Bill or Rights is gaining serious traction, as discussed [% 2310653 | | here %] and [% 2318450 | | here %], we’re seeing the debate played out in the media, and a behind-the-scenes flurry of news releases designed to define the terms of the discussion.

Predictably, those who are against it—principally the airlines and their co-conspirators—are sniping at the movement’s supposed dire consequences.

One of the cannier arguments, as advanced by the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), pits the Bill of Rights against one of the travel industry’s most sacred cows: airline safety. The contention is that if Congress were to impose fines on the airlines for, let’s say, unnecessarily delaying flights, then the airlines would be inclined to do anything possible to avoid such fines, and in fact would compromise safety to do so.

Rather than regulate them, the argument continues, allow the invisible hand of the free market to implicitly hold the airlines to account, rewarding them for satisfying their customers, and punishing them for falling short.

But the argument is patently self-defeating if not downright disingenuous. If the profit motive is so effective in promoting the best interests of consumers, then it can be relied upon to keep the airlines on the straight and narrow safety-wise.

Besides, airline safety is already overseen by a federal agency acting on the public’s behalf, viz. the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In fact, the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 specifically, and pointedly, retained oversight of safety-related matters, reasoning that it was too important to leave to the airlines’ own devices.

The business travelers I know would be more than willing to spend a few extra dollars per ticket, if it meant better service. So you might wonder why the Business Travel Coalition is opposed to the Bill. While its website claims it is “Advocating customer interests” and the BTC is sometimes cited in the media as an association for business travelers, the BTC is actually in business to promote the interests of corporate travel managers, who are judged on their ability to manage travel costs, and are therefore naturally suspicious of anything which might add to the airlines’ costs and ultimately lead to higher ticket prices.

As the name suggests, the Passenger Bill of Rights is for passengers, not for travel managers or travel providers. And so far, I haven’t seen any group with a passenger-advocacy focus come out against the Bill.

Just sayin’…

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