Travel Fairness Now, a consumer advocacy organization representing 70,000 travelers, said today that the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) response to recent tragedies involving the Boeing 737 MAX 8 commercial aircraft, as well as a media report about a former airline lobbyist helping kill changes to aid consumers while serving as acting head of the FAA, demonstrate that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is carrying out the airline industry’s agenda while neglecting its own mission to protect American consumers and promote competition.
In a letter to the U.S. Congress, Kurt Ebenhoch, Executive Director of Travel Fairness Now, said, “It is difficult to find a case in which the DOT met an airline proposal it didn’t like. And it is even more difficult to find a recent case in which the DOT met a consumer proposal it actually did like, much less acted upon.”
“As part of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, the DOT is supposed to protect consumers, but you’d never know it by the long record they’ve established in the last few years of turning their back on the very people that pay their salaries and who they are there to serve,” Ebenhoch said separately.
A March 27, 2019 story in ProPublica,“Happy to Do It”: Emails Show Current FAA Chief Coordinated With Ex-Lobbyist Colleagues on Policy,” included text from emails between the acting head of the FAA and a top lobbyist with the U.S. airline industry’s lobbying organization. According to the article, the airline industry lobbyist said she “wanted an update on the airline industry’s push to roll back rules on mishandled baggage and extra fees, among other Obama-era regulations.” Growing impatient, the airline industry lobbyist goes on to tell the top FAA official, “We are anxious to know when we’ll have a yes or no,” in a Feb. 3, 2017, email.
Weeks later the pro-consumer, traveler friendly regulations were nullified by the DOT.
“The report vividly demonstrates the incredibly close and inappropriate relationships between the regulator and the regulated at DOT,” Ebenhoch said in Travel Fairness Now’s letter to Congress.
“All of this points to a DOT that is doing the bidding of the very companies it is supposed to be regulating and the American taxpayer is stuck with the bill,” said Ebenhoch. “Congress and the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation need to investigate how the DOT makes decisions not only on safety, but also on consumer protection, promoting competition and many other areas where DOT continues to neglect the flying public, as well as its responsibilities under the law.”
Today, the U.S. taxpayer-funded DOT is not serving taxpayers. Instead, it prioritizes serving the interests of the largest U.S. airlines over consumers. In recent years, DOT has allowed unprecedented industry consolidation. That consolidation has caused a steep decline in competition, created market power that airlines wield to impose massive increases in the number and cost of fees, and block lower-priced competitors. It has also resulted in increasingly aggressive airline efforts to interfere with innovations that leverage the power of technology to promote easy access to information, side-by-side comparison shopping and greater transparency in airfare pricing.