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Published on : Wednesday, March 16, 2016
The Business Travel Coalition (BTC) applauded U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) for their vision in introducing a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill with a strong airline price-transparency provision and commended Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Klobuchar (D-MN), Markey (D-MA) and Schumer (D-NY) for their leadership in filing sorely needed pro-consumer amendments regarding price gouging, seat squeezing and airlines deceiving where carriers are not held sufficiently accountable for unfair and deceptive practices and unfair methods of competition, all of which have become of heightened concern in a radically consolidated industry.
BTC strongly endorses a filed amendment that would establish a national commission that, in part, would be tasked with examining the impediments to access by foreign air carriers to routes to and from the United States. As important, another amendment would have the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a study of airline alliances. GAO would look at, among many alliance-related issues, whether there are alternatives to antitrust immunity that could be conferred that would also produce public benefits. Particularly essential is an amendment to restore the right of consumers and State Attorneys General to sue airlines for unfair and deceptive practices.
“A private right of action – the right of consumers and State Attorneys General to sue airlines- needs to be reinstated to reflect the intent of Congress when it passed the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. State Attorneys General would then be able to protect their citizens as they do in every other consumer-facing industry for practices such as bait and switch, misrepresentation, unethical or unscrupulous conduct, unwarranted health and safety risks and price gouging,” stated BTC founder Kevin Mitchell. “This would strengthen the enforcement hand of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and provide sorely needed discipline in a consolidated industry to prevent airlines from trampling upon the rights of consumers,” added Mitchell.
In the past ten years the U.S. has gone from eleven airlines controlling some eighty percent of domestic seat capacity to just four airlines today. This profound consolidation of the industry has benefited airlines tremendously enabling record-level, sustainable profits. A financially viable air transportation system is important to the social and economic goals of the country. However, competitive concentration has led to airline policies and practices that seek to reduce price transparency, undermine the U.S. DOT’s consumer protection authority and block foreign carrier new entry through commercial protectionism. Only strong and determined Congressional leadership will solve the many problems consumers now face in an industry indifferent to their rights and needs.