The Ugly Couple: Congress and the Airlines

Not to belabor the point, but the airlines are not your friends. The latest confirmation came at yesterday’s congressional hearing, at which point we learned that our congresspeople really really aren’t our friends either.

This was a hearing ordered up after United Airlines forcibly and bloodily evicted a paying passenger from one of its flights recently because they had overbooked the flight. That was a disgusting scene, as we all know from the shocking video. So members of Congress asked the airlines to come in for a tongue-lashing and a lecture on their incivilities.

Interestingly, only United sent its CEO; the rest of the industry sent only lower level executives. So much for caring what Congress and others may think of them. The airlines apologized for not doing better (ho-hum) and said they’re taking steps to fix overbooking (want to buy ocean front property in Utah?). The committee members responded by warning the airlines that they’re mistreating customers (really?) and holding out vague warnings of regulatory action (been there, done that).

Of course, in less time than it took to haul that United paying passenger off his flight, the very same congresspeople could have drawn up a bill that would e,imitate overbooking as a practice while establishing stern regulatory guidelines for airline treatment of passengers. Call it a passenger bill of rights maybe.

Instead we just heard more blather without meaning. We don’t like cramped seats. Small overhead bins. Extra fees for everything. We heard this in hearings two years ago and before that and before that. Nothing has happened. Apparently nothing is about to happen. One of the committee members, in fact, actually said he’d like to see some legislation to protect the airlines from lawsuits filed by unhappy, maltreated passengers.

Bottom line: hardly anyone in Congress at this point seems really on the side of passengers. It’s too important for them — and we’re talking majority Republicans — to appease the airline industry, which contributes millions of dollars to their campaigns and has an extensive lobbying presence in Washington.

Congress isn’t worth a crap. And neither are the airlines in their relentless, now unimpeded pursuit of greed. It’s disgusting.