It’s the time of year when the days get shorter and my mood grows darker.
And I’ll be honest: that government shutdown, the legislative gridlock and the shoot-out at the Capitol aren’t exactly the kind of pick-me-ups I was looking for.
It’s probably not the best occasion to write a mission statement, but who cares?
(Admit it, you’re not reading this post because you give a hoot about my purpose in life — you’re glued to it for the angry comments that are certain to follow. Scroll down a little and feel the flames, my friends.)
I wanted to get this story out of the way quickly and then move on, as opposed to the train wreck that happened last year. Maybe you’ll recall the string of grumpy stories on my consumer advocacy blog that began last October and didn’t stop until Daylight Savings Time resumed in March. I’m not nice when it’s dark outside.
I chose my targets without discrimination. If I offended you, I’m not sorry. You probably deserved it.
But a little righteous indignation can provide focus, and that’s exactly what this exercise did for me. As I reviewed the long laundry list of issues that get me all fired up, I realized that behind the bile there lurked a bona fide mission statement.
And, despite having done this consumer advocacy thing for the better part of two decades, I still didn’t have a mission statement.
Maybe I needed one?
So let’s get right to it. Here are the issues that really chap my hide:
Anti-competitive mergers. I’m unaware of any merger that has created jobs, improved customer service, lowered prices or increased competition. If you can show me just one that did any of those things, I might consider revising my position that mergers are bad for consumers. American Airlines and US Airways, love ya both. But I think the government should let you compete separately.
Junk fees. Whether it’s a mysterious “access” fee on your cell phone bill or a “convenience” fee on your airline ticket, I stand firmly opposed to meaningless fees that line the pockets of companies. By the way, “junk” is in the eye of the consumer, not the experts. So a poorly-disclosed luggage fee can also be junk. Because I said so, that’s why.
Loyalty programs. Frequent flier, frequent stayer — frequent anything — programs are addictive and expensive for the average consumer. What’s more, they encourage companies to quietly remove necessary amenities and services from ordinary, non-elite customers. Loyalty programs should be more closely regulated and in some cases banned by law. Disagree with me? Who cares. This is a lecture, not a debate.
Security without dignity. No matter how you travel, you have the right to be screened in a dignified way that respects your constitutional rights. I’m deeply troubled by the false choice of a scan or a pat-down that the TSA offers us at the airport. The invasive searches must end and the scanners need to be decommissioned now.
No privacy. You have the right to share your private information with a company on your terms — not a company’s. Where possible, you should have the right to be anonymous as a customer, and to stay that way. The EU has shown us the way forward. All we have to do is follow, if we dare.
Lying labels. A product should say what it does and do what it says. In travel, that means that when you buy a ticket on one airline, for example, you should actually fly on that airline. Airline codesharing is a fundamentally anti-consumer practice. Companies are lying about themselves when they codeshare — and it shouldn’t be allowed.
I also added two specific types of businesses — travel clubs and timeshares — to my target list. Most travel clubs, at least the ones that require you to pay thousands of dollars for expensive memberships in exchange for unrealistic discounts, are fraudulent. Timeshares are fundamentally sound products marketed in a scammy way. I can’t encourage my readers to participate in either, at least in their current form.
For extra drama, I also gave an honorable mention to “false” consumer advocates who do little more than toe the corporate line, even when it’s clearly a lie. I don’t even have to name them, because their comments will almost certainly appear at the bottom of this story. They just can’t help themselves.
These six things should make you come unhinged, too. They’re flat-out wrong and beg for regulation.
But a few of you, dear readers, will hit the roof for all the wrong reasons. Maybe you’re a card-carrying frequent flier, and think the hopelessly convoluted programs shouldn’t be regulated — or God forbid, banned — and maybe you also think the cheapskates in the back of the plane deserve to be tortured and hit with a million fees as punishment for not obediently giving all of their business to an airline or hotel. Maybe you think mergers are good.
You’re wrong. I’m right.
Mission statements shouldn’t be meek, feel-good one-liners for the masses. They should be manifestos that make your customers confident — and your competitors mad. Here’s mine.
Cue the flames.