Congressmen were described as “angry” today when they grilled executives from several different airlines during hearings in the House. Prominently featured was Oscar Munoz, the United CEO best known for recent dragging and beatdown services which are never mentioned in the rewards program brochures. But he was joined by representatives from American, Southwest and Alaska Airlines. (Apparently Delta didn’t think it was worth their time to send anyone.)
I normally don’t expect much out of these hearings beyond a dog and pony show for the CSPAN cameras, but one almost gets the sense that something different might be happening here. Too often we have congressmen who are investigating matters which are so far removed from their own life experiences that it’s like they’re examining alien life forms. Being out of touch with your constituents and getting lost in the beltway ecosystem can do that to you. But most of the members are not rich enough to constantly take private jets or go first class and the majority of them have to fly. They probably know as well as any of us just how bad airline service is. That showed up during the questioning.(Reuters, emphasis added)
“We all know it’s a terrible experience,” said Representative Michael Capuano, a Democrat from Massachusetts. “Some charge fees for baggage, some charge fees for oxygen, who knows?” …
“If airlines don’t get their act together, we are going to act, it is going to be one size fits all,” said Bill Shuster, chairman of the House of Representatives’ transportation committee.
“Seize this opportunity because if you don’t, we’re going to come, and you’re not going to like it,” Shuster said.
Republican Duncan Hunter, who flies from San Diego to Washington weekly when Congress is in session, said it is a “joke” that there is competition, given there is no other direct flight from Washington to San Diego.
“Why do you hate the American people?” he asked, semi-seriously. “I was going to ask how much do you hate the American people but I’m not going to ask that.”
I can’t tell you what a relief it is to actually hear members of Congress expressing the same frustrations that so many of us experience every time we travel. The wild, excessive fees are one thing, but the awful experience of just flying is what’s too often missing from the conversation. I’ve written here repeatedly about the fact that there’s no serious competition in the airline industry, but now we have Duncan Hunter on record calling the idea of competition “a joke.” And asking them why they hate the American people may have been said partly in jest, but that’s certainly how it feels most days.
I don’t know how much credibility I’d assign to Bill Shuster’s outrage since he’s the top dog on the Transportation Committee and could have done something about all of this long ago. (Plus, he’s pushing that awful privatization scheme to benefit the unions and is dating one of the airline industry’s representatives.) But if there’s enough public scrutiny of these questions he may well feel compelled to act.
The disappointing part of all this is that we really didn’t need David Dao to be dragged down the aisle with some of his teeth knocked out for Congress to finally get off their collective butts and begin this process. The other horrible facts of flying which these members are grilling the airline executives over have been going on for a long time. As I already noted, plenty of our congressmen fly on a regular basis and they must hear about it from their constituents as well. None of this was a secret. The only question now is what, if anything, they plan to do about it.
Sadly I’ve been watching Washington long enough to have a sick feeling in my stomach and a suspicion that this is all for show and nothing is going to change. Come on, guys… prove me wrong for once.