Tuesday, March 20, 2007

User Fees and Airline Bailout Programs

Are airlines who we want to have direct control over ATC in the United States? They can barely manage their own businesses, as can be seen in this account from Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and blogger that I have a lot of respect for:

DELTA AND ME: Okay, my various cryptic references to Delta have people wanting the whole story. It is, sadly, typical.

I left Knoxville headed for Grand Cayman on Sunday morning a week ago. I was connecting in Atlanta to a flight scheduled to depart at 10:20 a.m. Just before boarding, the counter folks announced that the flight was overbooked (by 22 seats!) and started bumping people. I was one of them. There were no other available flights, and I wound up spending the night in Atlanta and taking the next day's flight at 10:20 a.m. That cost me a full day of vacation. Delta gave me $400 and three meal vouchers for $7 each.

Well, airlines overbook, and people get bumped. But this degree of overbooking on a flight at the crowded spring break season seems way excessive to me. And worst of all was the attitude of the Delta employees at the counter that morning. They gave the impression of actually enjoying the process of delivering the bad news -- including the supervisor whom I asked to speak with. I've been flying Delta since I was three years old, and my experiences with them have generally been good, but this experience makes me understand why they're doing so badly, and not care very much what happens to them. Airlines have a lot of problems to deal with that make flights late sometimes, like this past weekend's blizzards, and I have considerable sympathy with them when those come up. But after this I don't trust Delta to do its best, and I think it's important to trust people you're hiring to get you somewhere on time and in one piece.

I'll have more to say soon about user fees and the proposed 350% increase on the per-gallon fuel taxes we pay, but this is an example of exactly why the proposed privatization of the ATC system is a very bad idea. The airlines are threatened by the emergence of VLJs (Very Light Jets) and this is apparent by their blatant attempts to exclude them from the air with lobbying efforts for user fees and increased taxes that can't be passed on to the consumer in the way the airlines costs can. The proposed billion dollar cut in small airport funding, which coincidentally will close many of the very airports that are the backbone of general aviation travel, is another transparent effort to ground the competition.

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