by Brandon Macsata.
As a pro-capitalism, pro-business Republican, it always seems less desirable to favor strong government intervention in the marketplace. After all, doesn’t government usually make matters worse? But every so often, government needs to inject itself into various segments of the economy – especially when the rights of consumers are being taken for granted, at best, or completely ignored, at worst. In recent times, there is no clearer example than the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) decision to promulgate a series of regulations guaranteeing airline passenger protections.
DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican Congressman, summarized it best when he wrote, “…DOT strongly believes that passengers are entitled to strong and effective protections when they fly, and that they should be able to expect fair treatment from airlines…[and] recent DOT passenger protections will help ensure that you receive the respect you deserve before, during and after your flights.” (1)
The airline industry is unlike no other industry if for no other reason that its market is a captive audience. What does that mean? Simply put, when was the last time you traveled from Washington, DC to Los Angeles, CA in less than one day for a business meeting, or family emergency … without flying on a plane? Impossible, isn’t it? Therefore, that audience, (aka, we consumers), is captive to the airline industry with little or no options otherwise available in the market.
First, DOT took the necessary steps to ensure that people were no longer treated like herded cattle by limiting the time airline passengers could be forced to stay aboard an excessively delayed flight.
To summarize, in April 2011, DOT’s tarmac delay rule went into effect thereby limiting excessive tarmac delays to three hours. The regulation implemented key provisions of the Passenger Bill of Rights – and now allows stranded passengers to deplane after three hours on the tarmac. U.S. air carriers operating domestic flights were also required to provide food and water within two hours of being delayed, maintain working lavatories and when necessary, provide appropriate medical attention.
This regulation came about only after the airline industry promised to clean up its act over a decade ago, yet the problem only worsened. The airline industry’s defense of trapping its customers aboard an aircraft for 4, 6, 9, or 13 hours was simply inexcusable. How long did the airline industry think this problem would persist before the government took notice?
Despite dire predictions by the airline industry, DOT’s common sense rule prohibiting U.S. air carriers from keeping an aircraft on the tarmac for longer than three hours without deplaning passengers, has not resulted in the “skies falling.” When Secretary LaHood announced the 3-hour tarmac delay rule on December 21, 2009, airlines and their high powered lobbyists in Washington made grim predictions that government ‘interference’ would result in massive delays and cancelled flights. They were not only wrong, but they were dead wrong.
According to the Government Accountability Office’s recent report, Airline Passenger Protections: More Data and Analysis Needed to Understand Effects of Flight Delays (GAO-11-733), …”since the Tarmac Delay Rule went into effect in late April 2010, tarmac delays of more than 3 hours (180 minutes) have been nearly eliminated (see fig. 8, page 28). In the first 12 months since the rule went into effect, airlines reported tarmac delays of more than 3 hours for 20 flights, compared with 693 over the same period prior to the rule. 54 Airline consumer groups we spoke with strongly support the tarmac delay rule instituted by DOT.” (2)
Building upon the tarmac delay regulations, DOT put into effect another round of airline passenger protections in August 2011 to encompass lost bags and bag fees, full disclosure of additional fees, bumping and expansion of the tarmac delay rule, to name only a few.
Airline passengers deserve to know what are the total fares they’re paying, including ancillary fees; they deserve fair compensation for lost bags, as well as when oversold flights force them off a flight for which they purchased a ticket; and they deserve minimum protections when stuck on the tarmac, regardless whether the flight is operated by a domestic or foreign carrier.
For over a decade the airline industry has increasingly ignored the complaints and concerns expressed by a growing chorus of airline passengers, especially on domestic flights. U.S. air carriers have placed a greater emphasis on their profits rather than the comfort, safety and satisfaction of their customers. That’s why airline passenger protections are long overdue!
1 U.S. Department of Transportation, FAST LANE, “As holidays approach, DOT’s new consumer protections make flying easier, less stressful,” September 20, 2011
2 Government Accountability Office, “Airline Passenger Protections: More Data and Analysis Needed to Understand Effects of Flight Delays,” (GAO-11-733), September 7, 2011, page 27.
Brandon M. Macsata serves as Managing Partner of The Macsata-Kornegay Group, Inc. (TMKG) - a national political and fundraising consulting firm specializing in grassroots campaigns, media messaging and fundraising. Macsata has extensive experience working with political candidates, national and statewide trade associations, and other corporate entities.