Update: I created a Whitehouse.gov petition for a traveler’s bill of rights here. Please take a minute to sign it and send to your friends and family!
The petition is limited to just 800 characters, but you can read the explanation of the demands below:
Originally posted on 3/18:
US Airlines are seeking more than $50 billion in bailouts and they’ll likely get it:
The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 16, 2020
But that’s not all.
Those bailouts come from the taxpayers pockets. That’s you and me.
It’s fair to say that COVID-19 was an unpredictable once in a century event, but it’s still surprising that a travel industry that went through 9/11 and the Great Recession in the past 20 years didn’t do a better job preparing for the next major disruption.
AA CEO Doug Parker famously said in 2017 that he didn’t think American would ever lose money again. That’s why American spent more than 100% of their free cash flow over this past decade, spending $12.5 billion on buybacks of its own stock. Other airlines were not far behind as the industry spent a whopping 96% of their free cash flow over the past decade on stock repurchasing!
That type of head in the sand thinking is why so many airlines are in big trouble.
Luckily for them, mergers and acquisitions have made the airlines into monstrosities that are too big to fail. No matter how poorly they plan, they’ll still be bailed out.
The same goes for Boeing and the major hotel chains.
Mergers have decimated consumer benefits, while ensuring that the travel behemoths never go out of business.
Go ahead President Trump and bail them out. But ask consumers what they want in return for bailing them out.
The free market would normally sort most of this out, and things were just fine before airlines and hotels gobbled up the competition. However consolidation has emboldened the travel industry to devalue and strip away consumer benefits without consequence.
Here are some ideas off the top of my head, in no particular order, that should be conditions for accepting tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer funded bailout money:
- No more basic economy fares. These didn’t lower fares as promised, they just added restrictions and took away even more dignity from economy passengers.
- Families with kids under 13 need to be seated together. Airlines are upselling more and more of their seats. Families with kids should always be seated together in advance and not made to embarrassingly scramble on the plane. And traveling companions shouldn’t need to spend extra to sit together.
- Mileage programs should have published award charts. Airline and hotel mileage programs still have award charts, but Delta, United, and Hilton for example hide them from consumers to keep them in the dark. They should be forced to publish them.
- Devaluations should be announced at least 6 months in advance. Some programs treat their miles like the bank of Zimbabwe. If airlines and hotels want our help, they should treat consumers with respect and let us know what they plan on devaluing our mileage balances well in advance.
- Resort fees and destinations fees should be banned. Hotels want a bailout? They should have to agree to not charge hidden resort fees. Worse yet are the city hotels charging a destination fee. Be up front with your pricing and fair to consumers.
- Fuel surcharges and carrier imposed surcharges should be banned. These charges are to avoid paying taxes and add costs onto mileage award tickets that were once advertised as free awards.
- Stop shrinking airline seats. Airline seats are getting narrower even as passengers are getting wider. The distance between seats keeps shrinking. Is it time to regulate a minimum seat width and pitch?
- Stop shrinking airline bathrooms. Boeing’s 737MAX airplanes were unpopular even before consumers realized they were poorly engineered death traps, because Boeing and the airlines configured them to be horribly uncomfortable. Slimmer seats with less legroom then ever. And teeny tiny bathrooms where you can’t maneuver or wash your hands without getting soaked. Just like MCAS didn’t have to be designed to fail, the configuration of these planes don’t have to be designed by wannabe Torquemada engineers. Fix the problem just like you’re fixing MCAS!
- Give passengers back a free bag. Once upon a time everyone got 3 free bags, then is became 2, then 1, then none, and then the cost of bags started skyrocketing. In turn, people started bringing more and bigger carry-ons, which actually delays boarding-which ironically costs the airlines money. You want bailout money? Bring some humanity back and give everyone a free checked bag and a free carry-on bag.
- Change/Cancellation fees should be capped at a percentage of the fare. Many change fees today exceed the cost of a ticket, rendering tickets worthless if you need to make a change. And yet airlines can change the rules on the fly and make us wait 12 months to get a refund if they make changes to our flights. Airlines should agree to cap change and cancellations fees at a reasonable percentage of the fare paid, such as a $150 change fee with a cap of 30% of the actual cost of a ticket.
- Add Passenger Rights Regulations. Europe’s EU261 requires cash payments for delayed flights, cancelled flights, overbooked flights, downgrades, lost or delayed baggage, and more. US airlines can get away doing nothing in many of these cases. This should be rectified.
- Remove Deregulation Act Protections for airlines. The airlines can do pretty much whatever they want because the deregulation act prevents consumers from suing them in most cases. It’s time for these protections to be rolled back as airlines have abused consumer knowing they can’t be held accountable. United for example has blatantly lied about written lifetime million miler benefits, SilverWings lifetime membership benefits, and lifetime club benefits, but they can get away with it due to the deregulation act.
- Remove airport slot controls. Many airports limit the number of takeoff and landing slots. This inhibits normal competition and makes it hard for new airlines to launch.
- Require airlines to provide refunds when they cancel flights. Airlines are currently refusing to offer refunds on flights that they cancelled. They should be required to offer refunds when they cancel or change flights.
Do you want to see conditions added to a bailout? Click here for the contact information of your elected representatives and let them know!
What conditions would you want in exchange for bailing out the travel industry?