It should come as absolutely no surprise that someone like Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) would take a stand against the latest round of airline mergers. After all, Oberstar is the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, and he’s spent his career officiating the failed marriages of air carriers. “Mergers may mean short-term profits for investors,” he says. “But they inevitably mean long-term losses for workers and consumers.”
It may, however, come as a surprise who is not opposing the likely unions of United and Continental, Delta and Northwest, and perhaps even American and US Airways.
Among airline consumer advocates, not one group has warned its members or actively opposed the mergers yet. Not the Air Travelers Association, not the Coalition for Airline Passenger’s Bill of Rights and not the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups. Only the Business Travel Coalition has made a public statement about the situation in an academic commentary on the subject.
You would think that any action that inflicts “long-term” losses on consumers would light a fire under these organizations.
The apathy extends to membership groups comprised largely of travelers. There hasn’t been a peep from AAA or AARP. The National Business Travel Association hasn’t said much of anything. The last communication to its members on the subject, as far as I can tell, was more than a year ago, when it acknowledged that mergers could mean “significant changes within the corporate travel industry.” But it backed away from offering any useful advice, saying instead that “the impact of an airline merger varies from company to company.”
And let’s not forget the role of the media in all of this. Click on any story about the mergers, and you’ll notice two things. First, a sense of inevitability about these corporate combinations. And second, an absolutely stunning lack of compassion for readers, viewers and listeners who would almost certainly have fewer choices and pay sky-high air fares after the mergers are consummated.
We’ve been snoozing away while we allow airlines to seduce us with press releases about new airline meals and lie-flat beds.
If there ever were an issue to unite us — customer advocates, membership organizations and news media — it should be this one.
Fortunately, none of the proposed airline mergers have been announced yet. But why wait for the wedding invitation? It’s time to take a stand. Now.