While we at TruPrice have occasionally spirited debates on the state of the world and in our country more specifically, our role is to remain apolitical on this blog and in how we approach our mission of supplying the traveling public with unprecedented access to accurate airline and rental car fee information.
But even we would be bereft in not noticing that today may signal a massive overhaul on Capitol Hill as voters stream to the polls. If predictions are correct, we could see a strong repudiation of Washington’s recent agenda evidenced by a swing to the right in Congress. And while voting results may or may not result in an actual change of control in Washington, one result may be a signal that voters want the brakes put on what is widely perceived as a very activist federal government.
So let’s look at the convergence of a few factors and perhaps engage in some good, old-fashioned speculation on how recent events and today’s election results may affect efforts to require the type of transparent fee displays currently caught in a sumo wrestling match between Global Distribution Systems and many major airlines. First, airlines have been profitable only recently after virtually ten years of horrific bleeding, hundreds of thousands of layoffs, major M and A activity, bankruptcy filings and the outright collapse of some airlines. Second, as analyzed by Christopher Elliott in this post, these same profit margins are being driven ever-increasingly by ancillary fees. Third, there is no shortage of finger pointing between the airlines and Global Distribution Systems (GDSs) as it relates to managing the electronic transfer of fee information for distribution and display to travel consumers via on-line Websites and through travel agents and corporate travel tools. Whoever is at fault, neither side is budging.
Which brings us to today, election day, when we may witness a power reversal in government that would make even the original Tea Partiers shout with glee (as a native Bostonian, that original group of ruckus-causing patriots is a source of particular pride). If all holds to predicted form, will the new Washington be in the mood to do anything that even whiffs of new regulations? Especially on an industry that was its own worst enemy since the halcyon days of federal regulation that ended in 1978 and is only now beginning to get its financials in order (even if fees are largely the reason why)? And will DoT Secretary Ray LaHood’s mission to “bring President Obama’s priorities to the Department (of Transportation) and see them effectively implemented with a commitment to fairness across regional and party lines” be able to withstand what may be a clear signal to Washington that America is in no mood for further government involvement in its economy – especially under the rubric of fairness?
My prediction? Today’s vote will cause (perhaps force) a re-alignment of philosophies in Washington on more than just the Congressional level. Further, the vote will send a clear and distinct message about massive government undertakings like health care, our country’s infrastructure, and the deplorable state of the US economy in many important sectors. Given all of these factors, Washington will prioritize based on its perceived mandate. One thing it will be loathe to do is place regulations on one of the very few industries making any money today – aviation. What I do not see is transparent airline fees anywhere near the top of that agenda. And will president Obama be willing to use his political capital on such items as the DoT’s proposed rule-making to require full fee disclosure – a rule that is vehemently opposed by the airline’s lobbying arm the Air Transport Association (ATA)? My guess is absolutely not.
Time will tell.