When it comes to commercial air transportation, consumers have two bottom lines. First, it must be cheap. And second, it must be safe.
Under President-elect Trump, it’s likely to become less of both.
This week, Trump chose as his new Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, whose record as Secretary of Labor and Deputy Secretary of Transportation under former President George W. Bush was unflinchingly pro-business, to the detriment of consumer protections and worker safety.
Chao’s conservative bona fides are impeccable. In addition to being married to the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and her time in the Bush administration, she has worked for the avowedly right-wing Heritage Foundation, and is a frequent commentator on Fox News.
While it’s too soon to pinpoint likely changes in aviation policy under Chao, the overall direction can be predicted with a high degree of certainty. Commercial and operational regulations will be relaxed, in favor of “free market” forces. That means less focus on safety, fewer consumer protections, and even less regulatory pushback to industry consolidation.
The net effect will be more pricing power and higher profits for the airlines, and higher prices, less safety, and fewer choices for travel consumers.
Predictably, Airlines for America, the association representing the interests of U.S. airlines, cheered Chao’s appointment. “Elaine Chao is an outstanding pick to be the next Secretary of Transportation. She is a distinguished public servant and leader whose experience in transportation and labor issues, among others, as well as her political skills and the known ability to manage a large organization, will serve the Trump Administration well.”
What is certain is that she will serve the airlines well; and that can only be at the expense of the airlines’ customers. You can’t serve two masters.
Reader Reality Check
How do you expect air transportation to change over the next four years?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.