Who gives a hoot about 14 CFR Part 234? You should

Five people. That’s how many bothered to comment on the Transportation Department’s latest rulemaking proposal that would force airlines to report more details about delays. If you’re not shocked – no, outraged – by that number, read on. You will be.

You don’t have to be an inside-the-beltway politician to or a policy wonk to know why the proposal, which was quietly released for public comments on Nov. 20, is critically important. The proposed rule would have required airlines to report complete on-time and tarmac delay data about flights that may depart from a gate more than once, flights that are canceled after having left the gate and flights that are diverted to another airport.

Do we really need a history lesson?

So who bothered to comment?

A joint comment was received from the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) and the Regional Airline Association (RAA), representing 18 air carriers currently reporting performance data. Other comments were received from Delta Air Lines, the National Business Travel Association (NBTA), the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), the Coalition for an Airline Passengers Bill of Rights, and from five private citizens/airline consumers.

Translation: the government heard a lot from special interest groups — and a little from travelers.

Very little, in fact. It appears at least two of the comments were submitted by what I like to call airline apologists.

Of the five citizen comments, two stated that airlines should report all delays and publish their delay data on their websites, and one stated that the Department should fine air carriers $1 million for their first lapse in reporting.

That leaves two unaccounted for, and knowing what I do about this process, I have to assume the worst. But I digress.

How is it that only five citizens bothered to speak up?

First, finding out about a proposed rulemaking is incredibly difficult. You have to query this page on the BTS Web site. No rulemaking notices are sent to the public, as far as I can tell.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the government doesn’t want us to comment on its proposed rule changes. Maybe it prefers to hear from special interests and a handful of civic-minded individuals.

Fortunately, this rule change passed.

But I’m appalled. Yes, I think that’s the right word. Appalled.

If the deeply disgruntled airline passengers I deal with every day had an opportunity to share their thoughts on the Transportation Department’s rulemaking initiatives, I believe they would. And I believe they should.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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