Is it time to “occupy” the travel industry?

By | October 16th, 2011

When I was in New York last week, I decided to drop by Wall Street to see the protests. I wasn’t impressed.

I’d heard that Bill O’Reilly called them crackhead anarchists, but as I walked by Zuccotti Park, I saw neither crackheads nor anarchists. Instead, I was reminded of the random and pointless protests I witnessed as a college student in Berkeley. Those actions amounted to nothing except maybe disturbing the peace.

But word that the actions had spread to other cities, and just yesterday, of a massive protest in Times Square, made me take another look at these activists and their cause.

You can read their modest call to action here.

If these protests are about calling attention to inequality, then does the travel industry need to be “occupied”?

Consider:

• Just yesterday, a commenter suggested the TSA could use a little occupation. Maybe so. The agency has a long and growing list of exceptions to its pat-down policy. The least we can do is expect it to screen every air traveler with the same level of care.

• I’ve been a long-time critic of loyalty programs that separate travelers between “haves” and “have-nots”. It isn’t so much that the “haves” are treated like Caesars when they travel, but that the folks in the back of the plane are punished for failing to carry the right card. That’s unfair.


• How about executive compensation? We could talk about Gerard Arpey’s $5.2 million paycheck, even as his airline teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. How about the salaries of United Airlines’ and Continental Airlines’ execs, post-merger? Sigh. No one deserves to make that much for doing so little.

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I’ve read — and reread — the Occupy Wall Street manifesto a few times now. I think it’s being kept vague so that people like me can say, “Yeah, there’s something there I can agree with.” (I mean, does anyone think we don’t have “the right to communicate, to live, to be, to go, to love, to do what you will without the impositions of others”?)

But what to do about it?

As a consumer advocate, I think real change will come when we (the 99 percent, as we’re being called) simply refuse to do business with a company that treats us unfairly or exploits us. That is the ultimate form of protest, and perhaps the most effective.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters have done a great job of generating media coverage. Hey, they got my attention. But they will fail unless we, their presumed constituents, stop patronizing those who perpetuate this system.

I think a day of boycotting air travel, or “opting out” of the invasive full-body scans, or refusing to buy fuel, would send a powerful message. The actions could be followed up with more targeted protests, like boycotting one or two companies with unjust policies.

Ah, but travelers are incredibly difficult to organize. I saw what happened on National Opt-Out Day last year. It was a PR victory for the Department of Homeland Security. Similar actions against airlines, hotels and car rental companies in the past have fizzled.

We can’t change the world until we’re ready to stand up against the inequality, as a group.

Is that time now?

(Photo: Blais One/Flickr)

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