Airline lobbying sets a new record in 2008 — but what did they get?

by Christopher Elliott on January 30, 2009

The airline industry set what appears to be a new record for lobbying in 2008, spending just over $30 million in an attempt to access key decision-makers in government and influence legislation, according to government filings compiled by the Web site Opensecrets.org.

The largest single donor was the Air Transport Association of America, the lobbying organization for the U.S. airline industry. It reportedly spent $5.8 million to push a broad agenda that included the defeat of a passenger bill of rights, lighter government regulation and efforts to stop oil speculation.

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It was followed closely by American Airlines ($5.7 million) and Delta Air Lines ($5.3 million). The largest non-U.S. airline donors on the list were Virgin Group ($300,000) and Lufthansa ($170,000). (Read the full Opensecrets.org report here.)

It appears to have been money well spent.

Washington didn’t enact passenger rights legislation last year. It failed to fine airlines for all but the most egregious violations of federal regulations. And it looked the other way as airlines formed oligopolistic, anti-consumer alliances that extended far beyond marketing and codesharing.

This new record raises an interesting question: If airline passengers had $30 million to spend in Washington, what could they buy?

If, say, Kate Hanni’s coalition had a couple of million bucks to throw at a lawmaker or two, would we have a strong bill that makes it illegal for airlines to keep their customers imprisoned on a plane that’s sitting on the tarmac? If the newly-formed Association for Airline Passenger Rights could toss six figures into someone’s campaign fund, would the Transportation Department begin to enforce its own rules?

At the very least, maybe they could pay off a well-known travel expert to push their agenda.

But that’s not how it works. At least not yet.

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  • http://flyersrights.org Kate Hanni

    Exactly. It’s all about money.

    If we were to have 30 million dollars to wage a war against the airlines who are clearly worried right now about possible legislation for airline passengers, then we would be fighting a fair battle.

    And about Association for Airline Passengers Rights. I received an e-mail from Brandon the gentleman who hired himself to run it stating that they did not know we existed…pretty difficult to say that…and that they are supporting full re-regulation of the industry.

    He also said his only knowledge of the airline industry was his status on a certain airline.

    We did over-react at first, thinking this was yet another advocacy cause that was springing up to help defeat us, but alas it does not appear so.

    We support them if they are pushing for stronger regulations, no matter how much inexperience they bring to the table regarding the airlines. And as we know Chris, learning about airline operations will be no easy lift!

    Kate

  • http://www.ffocus.org MrBadExample

    The point made regarding lobbyists is of course spot on.

    The for. concept of a Passenger Bill of Rights is so flawed as to be laughable. Aks those in the EU how their rules are working for them.

    What used to be compensated for is now subject to e-mail responses that deny compensation that says essentially “Prior to the new rules we would happily honor your request, however under the new rules we can no longer offer compensation”

    Be careful what you wish for

  • Frank

    On January 30th, 2009 at 9:33 am Kate Hanni said
    And about Association for Airline Passengers Rights. I received an e-mail from Brandon the gentleman who hired himself to run it stating that they did not know we existed…pretty difficult to say that…and that they are supporting full re-regulation of the industry.
    ======================================================

    Re-regulate the AIRLINE industry? Awesome! Maybe then the airfares will actually cover the cost of doing business. HUNDREDS OF AIRLINES have gone under since I entered the industry in 1979. It’s been a huge failure as far as I’m concerned, deregulation. I lost my pension, have a salary that translates to the late 1980′s. Have watched my vacation days disappear, one contract after another.
    YES, RE-REGULATE THE INDUSTRY. But, that comes with a cost, I HOPE YOU dont mind your airfares going UP. But, look at the benefit of re-regulation. Airlines would, like they did years and years ago, actually take care of you. Remember hotel, meal, phone vouchers? Regulate the FARES on each route! Make the industry HEALTHY again.

    one can only dream.

  • Lewis Lipps

    Bravo! The posts are insightful and thought provoking.

    Although its no secret that the “right to petition the government” and that “Political contributions (money) are a form of free speech” rights (lol) are cynically abused by people dismissive of our American Constitution and freedoms, the fact remains that the Air Transport Association is hostile to passengers, disrespectful of its employees, and tap dancing as fast as it can to avoid re-regulation. Since those wanting the Air Transport Association stripped of their power to arbitrarily set fares and cancel flights for non-mechanical, non-weather related reasons don’t have seven figures with which to “petition” or “speak” to the government, it is imperative that contact with Senators and Representatives urging re-regulation be done by many people as possible. While that treasonous Bank Bailout bill was passed despite the objections of true American patriots, the flying public can affect policy and reregulate the airlines despite the to-be-expected objections by the Air Transport Association. We live in the age of email, and it is so much easier to contact Senators and Representatives and demand they fully reregulate all aspects of airline operations in the United States.

    Just wait until the next time bad weather strikes, the Air Transport Association sees ample opportunity to cancel flights (the busy summer season, and its thunderstorms are just around the corner), and have nothing compelling them to add flights to accomodate the thousands of people stranded and inconvenienced. Heck, they don’t even have to comply with the terms and conditions claimed in the carriage contract. You might be the one in the same position as those victim’s of Ford Motor Company’s 1970s cost benefit analysis regarding the gas tank design of the Pinto; that is, a decision that it is cheaper to inconvenience a (hopefully) small number than to provide for them. What if electric companies were so brazen?

    Flying shouldn’t hurt. There was a time when it didn’t. We can do better. I urge everyone to contact your Senators and Representatives and demand Air Transport Association control over fares, schedules and their ability to otherwise ration seats, be strictly regulated by a federal agency. Air travel is a utility, and should be managed just as other utilities are managed. It is the pro-American thing to do.

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