Airlines vs. the People
An open letter to the President:
Last month’s shocking mother of all customer service implosions at United Airlines was decades in the making and presents a unique opportunity for your administration to bridge the political aisle and improve commercial airline travel, put consumers first and rebuke airline special interests. Commercial aviation public policy deliberation has historically been a bipartisan effort.
There are several Democratic Members of Congress such as Senator Richard Blumenthal—who just announced a Passenger Bill of Rights—whose efforts to strengthen consumer protections in recent years have been blocked by a deep-pocketed army of airline lobbyists.
While United Airlines’ bumper-sticker approach to cultural priorities might indicate that it values its customers, that one airline alone spent $41 million in recent years to block consumer protections at the US Department of Transportation, in federal court and in Congress. The Flight 3411 nightmare lays bare the bankrupt customer culture at the US network carriers.
Mr. President, can you imagine a guest having checked into the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and while unpacking, a hotel security guard knocks on the door and informs your guest that a more important customer just arrived, and therefore, the guestroom needs to be vacated? Upon protesting, your guest is manhandled and violently dragged like an animal out of his guestroom into the service elevator, with a bleeding broken nose, a concussion and knocked out teeth, and deposited on the loading dock.
Of course, this would never happen at your hotel or any guest-driven business. Some of the world’s most customer-centric airlines include Alaska Airlines, Azul, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, JetBlue, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Those airlines’ deep-rooted cultures would never have allowed a guest to be treated like 69-year-old Dr. David Dao was. At issue is an ingrained cultural indifference toward the customer that has worsened as the industry consolidated in recent years. The major US network airlines neither can nor want to fix the problem.
Importantly, Mr. President, Senator Blumenthal’s bill would restore airline passengers’ right to sue airlines for unfair or deceptive practices. Such anti-consumer practices can include price gouging, withholding ancillary fee information from travel agents, refusing to provide complete fare and schedule information to online metasearch sites, undisclosed fees, chronically late flights, or health and safety risks. The fundamental right to sue when financially harmed holds market participants accountable and discourages them from trampling upon consumers’ interests and rights.
I urge your administration to work with Senator Blumenthal and other members of Congress to reverse the grave decline in service and respect for airline customers. It will take a combination of stronger consumer protections, the restoration of the right of consumers and State Attorneys General to sue airlines and increased domestic and foreign airline new entry.
Thank you for all that you do in support of great American jobs, robust competition and the consumer.