Hey Elaine Chao, here’s what American travelers really want

Congratulations, Elaine Chao. We have work to do. President-elect Donald Trump has promised to be the champion of the people. He has appointed you as the new Secretary of Transportation. We the people need your help to make basic changes.

Educating consumers. (Let’s get basic passengers rights up on posters at airports.)

Department of Transportation rules and regulations are relatively simple, but often hard to find. Plus, airlines thrive on uninformed passengers when it comes to compensation for lost, damaged and delayed checked baggage as well as overbooking. Plus, the rules for compensation when delayed on international travel are shrouded in mystery.

We the people are asking for information about our rights as travelers to be posted at airports and on our computer-generated boarding passes and itineraries.

This action requires no new legislation — the requirements for airports to display public service announcements at the request of the Secretary of Transportation is part of current appropriations legislation. Plus, current regulations regarding denied boarding procedures require that passengers being bumped be given the rules in writing. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Posters at airports and a short statement of passenger rights would allow travelers a level playing field when faced with customer service breakdowns during airline travel.

Truth in advertising. (Have airlines release open data for both airfares and fees.)

Since 2008, when American Airlines first began charging for checked luggage, airlines have been holding pricing data hostage, hiding these ancillary fees from airline consumers and travel agents. An unintended consequence of this airline action has been to thwart any new developments in the way that airline tickets are sold. Plus, competition across airlines has been damaged, as comparison shopping is not possible without open ancillary fee data.

This issue has been docketed and studied for more than four years. There are already thousands of pages of comments filed with DOT. It is time to act.

We the people only want to know how much the full cost of travel will be. We are simply asking for truth in advertising with access to all airfares and fees wherever airline tickets are sold. And, open data will allow innovation to flourish.

Air traffic system as infrastructure.

Our air traffic control system operates on technology from the 1960s. Passengers in cars with GPS have more awareness than pilots flying cross country. This outdated system has not suffered because of a lack of appropriations, but because of a lack of leadership coupled with a financing structure tied to the vagaries of the budget process. That financial uncertainty has delayed implementation of new NextGen technology for almost a decade.

The delays have cost the American public billions of dollars in lost time, fuel, environmental damage, and airport improvements that can be eliminated through better technology.

We the people ask that the government complete the modernization of our air traffic system and develop a funding system free from the stops and starts of the budget process that will allow for continued progress.

Airline passenger safety.

Airline passenger safety is being compromised by airlines as they add more and more passengers into aircraft that have not been certified for current seating configurations. The Federal Aviation Administration’s refusal to release testing data at the request of consumer groups, together with testimony before the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection that evacuation testing of aircraft has not been done with seating at 28-inch seat pitch, calls for recertification of aircraft capacity limits.

We the people ask that the FAA retest all aircraft with today’s seat pitch and passenger size as a central factor in the test.

Less legalized collusion.

The aviation marketplace is far too consolidated. When three network carriers and their regional partners control more than 65 percent of the domestic market and more than 80 percent of the international traffic together with their alliance partners, consolidation has crossed the tipping point. Combining the ability to control capacity and to coordinate schedules and airfares allows the Big Three airlines — American, Delta, and United — to operate with what amounts to monopoly power in many markets. The only solution is the dissolution of antitrust immunity permissions (granted by DOT) and the opening of international routes to more competition.

We the people ask DOT to reexamine its grants of antitrust immunity and to allow the vigorous growth of international competition as permitted by our negotiated open skies treaties.

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About the Author
Charlie Leocha is the founder of Travelers United, a Washington, DC, advocacy group. He also serves on the DOT Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection.
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