Airline Lobbyists Are Ghostwriting the Letters from Members of Congress Trashing Gulf Carriers

Last week I wrote about the dishonest video Delta released calling for government to crack down on foreign competitors, redistributing income from passengers to the largest U.S. airlines.

Delta was honest about its goal: to make lower airfares illegal.

I broke down the context of why the video is dishonest, including the subsidies that American, United, and Delta have gotten from the U.S. government while complaining that it’s unfair for the most profitable airlines in the world to have to compete against much smaller rivals (at a time when airline employment is at historic highs).

What I didn’t realize is that there’s another element to the dishonesty of Delta’s campaign: the airline emphasizes the bipartisan support they have in Congress for their position. Members of Congress are writing letters of support.

Except that it’s lobbyists for Delta, American, and United that are writing the letters in the first place. Delta lobbyists write letters, and then Delta uses those letters to claim broad-based support for their position. Clever.

Politico reports that letters from Members of Congress calling for action against the Gulf carriers are actually being ghostwritten by lobbyists. (HT: Joe H.)

Nearly every member of the Illinois congressional delegation sent a letter last week to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross urging them to crack down on three Gulf airlines for violating “Open Skies” agreements.

…If the letter sounds like it could have been written by a United lobbyist, that’s because it was. A draft copy of the letter obtained by POLITICO shows Adam Hepburn, a United lobbyist, as the author. The draft copy is almost identical to the final letter. Isaac Sancken, a spokesman for Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), who took the lead in assembling support for the letter, confirmed that United wrote the letter and that American and Delta were involved as well.

The last person to modify another draft intended to be signed by the Congressional delegation from Texas was a lobbyist engaged by American Airlines.

None of this is surprising given the stranglehold that the big airlines have over the House Transportation Committee.

But if you didn’t already understand that this is a crony capitalist play, with big airlines using their influence over Members of Congress to benefit themselves at the expense of consumers, the fact that the statements of Members are literally being written for them by United, American, Delta the change history in a Word document appears to prove it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. and now lets all wait for stupid comments from JoshG….

    there is no other way but to simply not travel on the big 3

  2. Whenever the GOP takes over the lobbyists write all the bills. Since the Gingrich Revolution, they occupu the committee rooms and pass out the payoff checks on the House floor. Reps are only there to tear down the government because it doesn’t suit their financial backers and ignorant dupe voters they hoodwink to vote for them by proving their racist, bigoted, anti-women bona fides. Only the U.S. has people this stupid. Rednecks, destroyers of civilization. Fat, ugly, stupid, the opposite of all that’s cool and modern.

  3. This is why Trump supporters voted for Trump. Anything anti establishment. alas that jerk turned out to be a whore himself.

    Btw Cathay pacific has disappeared from Alaska awards. Another “emirates surprise” coming?

  4. @Greg The gotcha was on a letter from the Illinois delegation which is overwhelmingly Democratic. This isn’t about party at all.

  5. For sure, when Republicans run the show, the rampant financial and political scandals (that already loom just over the horizon) will emerge, that of course, also result in great hardships in the form of severe recessions and high unemployment like the ones that happened at the end of BOTH Bush presidencies.

    Only this time it will be far worse when the party is over because the word is out that “anything goes” and that even the veneer of regulatory enforcement is not going to be applied.

    If this unethical conduct, which is also a shameless and flagrant abuse of power by the Big 3 Lying Til It Hurts airlines doesn’t make this clear, nothing will.

    After all, if the leader of the nation and the two most powerful leaders in both houses of congress are shameless and unapologetic pathological liars, should we really be shocked when others, be it in the form of corporations or individuals, also feel similarly entitled to lie through their teeth without facing any consequences for their shameful attitudes and behaviors?

    If the deceptive pricing practices and other widely reported passenger service issues haven’t already made clear that the airlines aren’t already ethically challenged in the extreme, and already feel over entitled, then why should they feel inhibited in other matters?

    If they already know they can pretty much get away with anything, including dragging people off of their aircraft without facing any criminal charges, or any penalties for deceptive business practices, why should they bother being concerned about something as “trivial” as having their lobbyists ghost write letters for others that have already been “bought and paid for” with campaign contributions and the waiving of all of the nuisance fees and penalties for their flights that are applied vigorously against the rest of us?

    There’s that old expression that comes to mind now when dealing with the airlines: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

    Everywhere we turn, when it comes to the airline industry in this country, more and more, this expression applies.

  6. Seems like another attempt by Trump and his cronies to make money off of the tax payers. How much are these airlines paying these people to do their dirty work? They are nothing but crooks.

  7. Actually, it’s “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord Acton, 1887. An interesting distinction between mere “power” which only “tends to corrupt”, and “absolute power”, where there are no tendencies involved, it simply and irrevocably “corrupts absolutely. So I suppose this means if there’s a bit of competition, there’s anything nly a tendency to be corrupt.

  8. As you may (or may not) know, this is not an uncommon practice in Washington. I’m always given templates from lobby groups to write letters to elected officials and agencies. Obviously, the lobbyists are far more familiar with the details of the dispute than the congressmen (or their aides). By having the lobbyists look at the final letters, it prevents the congressmen from potentially saying dumb things.

    Of course, given your previous musings on this subject, it’s not surprising that you’re trying to make a big deal out of this.

  9. @iahphx
    and given your previous and equally stupid comments, this one is not a surprise either
    Just because you brownnose parker or one of the other douchebags doesn’t mean you are correct, and just because this may or may not be common practice, doesn’t make it right

  10. @iahphx…. Once again, thanks for your kind words of wisdom. It’s always a learning experience reading your posts.

  11. @iahphx – this was not “having the lobbyists look at the final letters” to fact check them, this was lobbyists feeding Members something to sign on their behalf. And the point is that Delta is writing letters and then quoting those letters as though they are specific argumentative support from others which is intellectually dishonest.

  12. Thanks, @Ron!!! It’s been a long time since I’ve had to dust-off the cob webs in the remotest corners of my mind dating back to collegiate studies of philosophy, history and political science where I began understanding the meaning of Lord Acton’s expression!!!

    Of course, another expression that’s taking on a whole new perspective lately goes something like “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

    After all, who ever imagined we’d forget Herbert Hoover, or in this day and age give a free pass to an incompetent man-child who is not just insecure and unqualified for the job, but is also a pathological liar that has actually done the impossible by making Richard Nixon look good by comparison!!!

  13. Regardless of who wrote the letters, the lawmakers still signed their own names to them, did they not?

  14. Nice analysis. On the one hand “Airline Lobbyists Are Ghostwriting the Letters from Members of Congress Trashing Gulf Carriers” and on the other isn’t this the same Congress where “GOP lawmakers bought health insurance stocks while crafting bill—which boosts insurance industry”

    Did anyone think to wonder how many of these lawmakers might also own stock in AA / Delta / Untied and would profit handily from the demise of the gulf carriers?

  15. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did own stock. Just look at Tom Price who as a member of Congress wrote and voted on legislation that affected multiple companies he was investing in at the exact same time. They are a bunch of crooks!

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