World airline lobby shop IATA, the International Air Transport Association, is advocating for a reduction in consumer protections. Their main arguments are,
- The problems in air travel aren’t just airlines! Governments or privatize services are often at fault, for instance airport runway capacity and air traffic control. They also cite “strikes by non-airline workers.”
- People trust airlines to treat them fairly (“73% were confident they would be treated fairly in the event of operational disruptions”).
Since delays have increased since European EU261 compensation, the airline industry argues that the financial incentive in imposing costs for delays doesn’t reduce delays. That’s a bit rich, though, to argue that an increasing number of passengers needing compensation for airline flight delays proves it’s unnecessary to pay? The incentive isn’t the only reason!
- Compensation is meant to compensate those who purchased a product but didn’t receive what was purchased, and were inconvenienced.
- And maybe people trust that they’ll be treated fairly because of what they’re entitled to under these rules? (IATA doesn’t break out survey data to show where passengers are from who trust the airlines most. Show us the crosstabs!)
The Biden administration has proposed that airlines should pay out cash when they delay or cancel flights though this is largely a campaign issue rather than real policy change. And it’s true that an administration actually concerned with airline reliability would focus on air traffic control reform and infrastructure reform, so that the administration would stop creating bottlenecks.
Poor management at the FAA, and a failure to drive technological investment, limit throughput in the skies. And there are too many chokepoints in building airport facilities, especially runways, to increase air travel capacity.
It’s absolutely true that airlines are often held accountable to things outside of their control, but the ‘whataboutism’ involved – air traffic control is bad, so we should be allowed to be bad too! – is… exactly what you’d expect from a lobbying organization advocating the interests of its industry.
In the U.S. we’re stuck with a regulatory system that’s very much a second best. The Airline Deregulation Act has taken away the right of consumers to sue airlines based on common law principles of duty of good faith and fair dealing. We’re left relying on the Department of Transportation for consumer protection. Surely IATA wouldn’t trade reduced regulation for… tort liability. So bureaucrats are charged with ‘getting it right’.
IATA has for nearly 80 years presented itself as a standards setting body that raises the bar in the industry, advocating and training for safety. But it’s increasingly become an organization that lobbies for government subsidies and protection from costs.
Willie Walsh, IATA head and former head of British Airways parent IAG, says “The best guarantor of good customer service is consumer choice and competition.” So surely IATA will start lobbying for a dismantling of subsidies and protectionist rules. For instance, airlines would have to pay congestion pricing at airports instead of being granted slots (a property right to takeoffs and landings, given free by governments). Airlines would have to compete with foreign carriers in their home markets. That’s coming at next year’s IATA general meeting, right?