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Delta Spurns Airline Lobbying Group

It’s no secret that airlines spend millions of dollars, year in and year out, lobbying the government on issues ranging from regulation to taxes to safety standards. The lobbying efforts take several forms: one-on-one entreaties by airline management directly to regulators; via independent lobbyists; and through industry trade groups, like Airlines for America (A4A).

A4A, in fact, claims to represent the interests of airlines that “transport more than 90 percent of all U.S. airline passenger and cargo traffic.” That assertion will have to be modified on April 26, 2016, when Delta, one of the world’s largest airlines, withdraws from the organization.

Among the several points of contention, according to Delta, the most pressing appears to be disagreement on the future of the country’s air-traffic control system. A4A, and the majority of its member airlines, want to see air-traffic control taken out of the government’s hands and privatized. Delta wants the FAA to remain in control.

In its own official statement, A4A denies that the loss of Delta will hinder its efforts. “The pending change will not distract A4A and its members from the continuing work of fighting higher taxes and unnecessary regulations while pushing for updated infrastructure along with the vast array of technical and regulatory issues that A4A’s councils and committees regularly address.”

But losing one of the country’s largest airlines, and the $4 million in annual dues it pays to A4A, has to be a body blow to an organization that depends for its existence on the support of a shrinking number of companies in a consolidating industry like commercial air transportation. And if Delta was sufficiently at odds with A4A to withdraw its backing, other airlines may be planning to do the same.

How might a diminished A4A affect travel consumers? A4A is hardly supporting travelers’ calls for more spacious seating, or more transparent pricing, or more stable frequent-flyer programs. In fact, the interests of the airlines, as represented by A4A, and the interests of the airlines’ customers very rarely overlap.

In other words, A4A’s loss could be a gain for the traveling public. If so, we’ll have Delta to thank, not so much for being pro-consumer as for being anti-A4A.

Reader Reality Check

If travelers had a lobbying organization to represent their interests, what would you want it to lobby for?

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