Where’s the outrage?

I have just one question in the wake of the Transportation Department’s so-called “historic” rulemaking on airline passenger rights.

Why isn’t the airline industry upset?

The new regulations will force airlines to disclose their fees more clearly, increases denied boarding compensation, requires airlines to reimburse checked baggage fees when they lose your luggage, and bans post-purchase fare increases, among other things.

And the industry’s reaction? It thanked the government.

[The Air Transport Association] appreciates that DOT shares our goal of providing safe, reliable transportation, treating customers fairly and providing the best service possible.

The airline industry supports increased communication and full transparency, ensuring that our customers always know exactly what they are getting every step of the way; and market forces – not additional regulations – are already providing customer benefits.

As the DOT statistics demonstrate, airlines already have made many service improvements and many of the regulations formalize procedures already in place, including prompt delay notification, one-way fare advertising, and irregular-operation contingency plans.

Here’s the full statement. Looks pretty tame, doesn’t it?

The other trade group, IATA, was a little annoyed by the new regs. In a statement sent to the press, it called the new rules “short-sighted” and predicted airline passengers might suffer as a result.

It’s particularly unhappy with new rules that affect international airlines, saying, “This intervention into international airline business practices will result in increased cancellations, higher ticket prices and greater inconvenience for passengers.”

The usual chorus of airline apologists was surprisingly quiet after the DOT’s announcement.

And that has me worried.

If, as the government claims, these rules are so helpful to airline passengers, then we should see passengers doing backflips because they’re so happy, and airlines threatening to sue the DOT for overregulating their business.

Instead, passengers are lukewarm to the new regs, wich failed to address the two most important issues to them (peanut allergies and fare transparency). They believe more regulations are needed.

And airlines? I think it’s possible they are pleased with the government’s actions. Sure, they have a few new rules to worry about. But on the big issue — disclosing their highly-profitable ancillary fees — they dodged a bullet.

Even with a supplemental rulemaking later this year that promises to clarify surcharges at the point of sale, the airlines still get to charge these unconscionable a-la-carte fees as they have been, through most of 2012.

That’s another year of confusing and deceptive pricing — another year of ill-gotten profits.

Has the federal government just done the airline industry a big favor masquerading as new regulations?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • markincleveland

    Are peanut allergies one of the most sought after customer complains? I think they could be from a small minority that makes continual complaints,’
    It certainly is not on my radar,

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    @markincleveland yes, according to Cornell University, which had a rulemaking site with DOT, peanuts on planes was the most commented-on item.

  • Joan Eisenstodt

    Yeah, I think that this is suspicious .. the airlines are just bending overbackward to say this is all hunky-dory. Not like them. Why am I so skeptical believing that the airlines’ legal depts. are all working on ways around all this?

  • Eric

    I think the airlines consider this a best case outcome. It could have been worse for them. MUCH WORSE! I think when the gov’t dictates that baggage fees must be included in total ticket prices, you’ll see the airlines howling like banshees.

    As far as peanuts are concerned, the peanut growers are far more worried about a peanut ban on planes than the airlines are.

  • ButMadNNW

    To be fair, that “small minority” mostly consists of people who are actually allergic to peanuts, and that can be a life-threatening allergy. Fortunately, I’m not one who suffers from that allergy.

    But some airlines traded one allergen for another (no, wait; I’m not allowed to call it an “allergy” – it’s a “sensitivity”). I was annoyed on one of my last flights when the flight attendant handed me a small packet of pretzels with my drink. Flavored pretzels. The flavoring had MSG in it. And there were no snack alternatives (no plain pretzels, no peanuts, no … whatever). Of course, someone who is gluten-intolerant (celiac or not) would probably not be able to eat even plain pretzels…

    Can’t please all the people all the time, but I think airlines should have some alternatives available and not give everyone the same snack.

  • Mort B

    Peanut allergies, celiac disease etc. are PERSONAL concerns, and have no place in governmental regulations. If those with such sensitivities need to eat during a flight, they should be allowed to bring their own snacks aboard.

  • Jack

    Flight attendants on US-based airlines should be, at least, as accountable for their in-flight behavior as passengers are. There’s a small minority of power drunk flight attendants who, thanks to the indifference of their employers, feel they can run an airborne police state. Licensing of flight attendants–with procedures for revocation of said licenses–could put a stop to a lot of in-flight abuse.

    Asking for orange juice, with your first class breakfast, should NOT be a reason for having to consult a criminal defense attorney! See…

    http://consumerist.com/2009/12/asking-for-orange-juice-on-aa-may-violate-federal-law.html

    Also…

    http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20070920/news_lz1e20sterns.html

  • rich

    Chris, have you seen the information you will soon need to provide in order to get a passport. This is not an April fools’ hoax.

    http://papersplease.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/ds5513-proposed.pdf

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Yes, I have been following it. Yet another thing to be outraged about.

  • rich

    As a national journalist will you be registering your outrage with the State Department? I doubt they would pay any attention to the likes of me.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Yes. I plan to.

  • rich

    Thank you.

  • S.Lynn

    What the heck do they need all that info for? And if you don’t remember or don’t know? Are you denied?

  • djp

    If I fill out that will I also get a top secret clearance?

  • djp

    I think the industry is being nice as a trade off for delaying some of the changes the consumers want including the passanger bill of rights.

  • MarkieA

    An application for a clearance doesn’t get this in-depth

  • Carver

    It is important to note that the peanut allergy lobby posted various websites asking their members to comment on that site. That act alone prevents it from being a scientific survey

  • Carver

    If it were only a matter of personal discomfort you would be right. Unfortunately, my eating peanuts may pose a serious and substantial risk of or death to someone several seats away. Accordingly, even under strict Federalist construction, this regularion passes muster as its to protect the health and general welfare of the citizenry.

  • Crissy

    OMG, that’s INSANE!

  • john4868

    Markie … I had a clearance and it does get this in depth (although when I had one, they only asked for the past 10 years for Secret, TS and TS SCI they went all the way back.)

  • john4868

    I tend to think that this is more of a case of good negotiation. The administration found the middle ground that achieved most of its goals while avoiding the subjects that would lead to litigation and risk the whole rule being tossed. Honestly, doesn’t the airline industry look really bad if they fight any of these changes (“Yes, Mr Smith should pay us for his luggage even if we don’t deliver as promised.” “Why should we have to pay Mrs. Jones more since we sold her a seat that didn’t exist?”).

    On the Peanut Issue … Didn’t Charlie L on http://www.consumertraveler.com, one of your sister sites, post that the DOT couldn’t touch the peanut issue by law? If I remember correctly, Congress banned the DOT from making any policy on peanuts on airplanes unless it was supported by a scientific study. Since a definitive study doesn’t exist, they couldn’t act. I guess that also begs the question on if it is an issue?

  • Shibby

    That’s not your problem. If the citizenry cannot reasonably protect itself from things that will kill it, Nanny-Government shouldn’t have to step in and hold its collective hand. Again, it is not your problem as a private citizen that something you’re eating might cause someone else harm. Sad, but that’s the way it is.

  • http://oussamastake.blogspot.com/ Oussama

    I don’t see peanuts allergy as a problem, most snacks come with a warning, and it i incumbent on people with allergy to avoid peanuts. On international flights not necessarily US carriers you have the facility to order special meals.
    As for transparency of ancillary fees I think the airlines should provide notice to their passengers prior to introducing one and all fees should appear clearly while booking. As far as I am concerned the airlines use the fees to mask their inability to efficiently manage their core business

  • MarkieA

    John – I doubt very seriously that your clearance process required you to list any pre-natal care received by your mother and the facility’s address where she received this care, or to list all the persons present at your birth. This is well beyond anything within the realm of “normal”. I can only think that if this is indeed true, “THEY” are trying very hard to restrict overseas travel. For what reason, I have no idea.

  • Carver

    Its always interesting when people who hold extreme views don’t even fully understand their own extremism. The nannystate concept refers to the government acting as a nanny to protect ME from MYSELF, not others. Basically saying that I am not smart enough to make my own decisions and therefore it should make them for me

    Those who object to the so-called nanny-state have no objections to the government protecting me from outside third parties, particularly if I am unable to protect myself.

    Just consider your first line, “If the citizenry cannot reasonably protect itself from things that will kill it, Nanny-Government shouldn’t have to step in and hold its collective hand.” If we accept that logic, such as it is, we would also abolish, police, fire, etc. because we should also be protecting ourselves from these things “which will kill”

    Its a specious argument at best.

  • Carver

    If the only issue with peanuts was to the person eating it you would be 100 percent correct. The problem is that a person who is allergic to peanuts might get a life threatening reaction even being in the vicinity of someone else eating peanuts. Its not just a matter of self control by the alergic person.

  • john4868

    @Carver … According to my daughters’ allergist, who happens to be a member of one of the top ranked pediatric Allergy / immunology departments in the country, any allergen can induce anaphylaxis at any point. Even one that you have been exposed to hundreds of times…

    So by your logic, airlines would have to eliminate 100% of environmental allergens since they all can induce anaphylaxis. Do we really want to go down that path?

    Also, the DOT stated in their release, they couldn’t act because Congress banned them from acting until a scientific study showed a threat. Since that study doesn’t exist, they couldn’t act.

    If the threat was that bad, wouldn’t have at least one scientist produced a study?

  • cjr001

    I know it’s a bit short-sighted and all, but let’s face it: if the industry in question isn’t having a fit, then it’s hard to see how these rules and regulations have any teeth.

    Because about the only time you can tell when the rules are in favor of the consumer is when the industry has a problem with them.

  • cjr001

    I thought I read an article about how that potential passport application would be for those who have trouble providing identification in the first place. That this would be used rarely, not regularly. (Yes, I’m cringing as I type that.)

  • cjr001

    And as we’ve discussed, if somebody is known to be that allergic to peanuts, then they apparently must never leave their home, much less ever fly or take public transportation.

    If they are that allergic, then it is IMPOSSIBLE to prevent such a reaction because residue is EVERYWHERE.

  • MarkieA

    I’ve read this too, in the past day or two. I guess my question is, “If someone is having difficult providing a basic form of identification, how in the world could they be expected to answer all of these other questions?”