In dismissing Members of Congress signing a letter of support for US airlines against the Middle East carriers, the Business Travel Coalition’s Kevin Mitchel writes in The Hill,
Members are allowed to double and triple book flights home from Washington and pay nothing week in and week out for multiple changes while, in contrast, ordinary citizens can pay hundreds of dollars to make just a single flight change.
Airlines cultivate a cozy relationship with members through that practice as well as special reservations desks that begin the very exceptional treatment members receive throughout the entire travel experience.
I’ve explained this before, of course. And I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it.
- Government fares are refundable and changeable anyway. That’s not inherently coddling of legislators in exchange for favors. The government is a huge travel buyer and negotiates this.
- Members of Congress do get special accommodations, though, and dedicated assistance in holding space on a number of flights. Then again, I’ve been double booked my American Airlines club agents on a not infrequent basis (during irregular operations).
Mitchell could have highlighted the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee dating one of the airline industry’s top lobbyists (and his staff director formerly serving as an industry lobbyist, and his chief of staff being married to one). There’s little question that legislators bend towards US airline lobbyists.
And Delta, for instance, comps elite status to key politicians.
Members of Congress get special parking at Washington’s National airport as well. There are perks that the rest of us don’t get, because we don’t exercise the power of the state.
While I don’t think the VIP handling is appropriate (though it is understandable, because our leaders exercise so much power over heavily regulated businesses like the airlines) I don’t think avoidance of change fees is all that significant an issue — since it stems from the nature of a government fare.
On the other hand, American Airlines is pretty aggressive about cancelling out held (unticketed space) which duplicates or otherwise conflicts with other reserved space — at least for me. Double and triple booking, and not having those reservations cancelled, is a useful and special perk. It’s not one I can get that upset over, however.
There are many things wrong about the US airlines’ case against the Middle East carriers. That the US government is in the tank for them because they get to double book reservations probably isn’t one of those things. Indeed, I still predict that the US won’t act to substantively limit service by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar (and thereby limit consumer choice and raise prices) because there are higher national security-related priorities for the US government to worry about for which they need the help of the UAE and Qatar.