We need a Passengers’ Bill of Rights

December 30, 2018

I consider myself lucky to have traveled the planet since I was a young man. Back in the good ole days I looked forward to my next airborne trip with great anticipation. I still love to travel, but these days I dread the flying part, and I’ll bet many readers feel the same way. Where does one begin with this industry that has become detestable to the majority of its customers?

Being fortunate, I recently escaped from Pocatello’s icy landscape. I should be ecstatic about my itinerary, which includes my current abode, Chiapas, and then the Yucatán, Tampa, Dubai and Nepal. Truthfully, I am enjoying my journey that is underway, but every time I think about getting from one of these exotic ports to the next by air travel, I shudder.

My dislike for this class-driven industry, and its support services, begins the minute I enter an overpriced airport parking lot. The only time that doesn’t occur is when you travel from Pocatello’s airport because the parking is free.

However, the minute you enter most airport parking lots in America, you will start a process of being gouged and mistreated by industries that hold us captive. Should our government permit that when these companies have been granted control of a public commodity — airspace?

What is it about America that we permit so much class distinction and extortion in the name of free enterprise? The reality is that most airports and the airlines that service them are near monopolies (they are actually oligarchies). The notion deregulation of the airlines industry in 1978 would create more competition, thereby resulting in lower prices and better services, has primarily been a failure.

There are far fewer airlines flying the “unfriendly skies” these days, and Americans are held captive in a space the industry controls with few consumer protections. We have been forced to bear what they throw at us due to the failure of our federal government to protect us, and if the trend continues with fewer airlines, we can expect to see higher fares in the future. That would not be the case if our government served Americans instead of the rich and large corporations.

Congress created this mess when it deregulated the airlines in 1978 to supposedly provide Americans with competition that would produce benefits for the consumer. Somewhere in the process we have lost our way, and it is time to fix the problem with a Passengers’ Bill of Rights.

Wouldn’t it be a real shocker if Idaho’s conservative federal politicians got together and introduced a joint bill in the House and the Senate to protect Americans from this abusive industry — that would make national and international news.

If the thought ever occurred to them to do something courageous for Americans here are some suggestions for a badly needed Passengers’ Bill of Rights:

1.) Require all airlines that fly in America both nationally and domestically to include in the quoted ticket price one carry-on bag and one check-in bag with reasonable weight restrictions.

Airspace is a public commodity they are profiteering from, and consumers ought to be able to compare apples to apples. Any additional luggage should fairly be subject to a reasonable surcharge.

If this policy were enforced, the luggage-jamming chaos and incivility on display in most airplanes would vanish overnight. Nowadays it is a conflict-laden circus every time I board an airplane in America, and it is time to call out and regulate the callous and insensitive greed of this industry.

2.) Require that all airplanes in America meet certain minimum space restrictions for body and leg space, including room to move about in the bathrooms. I swear some of the newer planes flying today were designed by torturers, and the industry should be ordered to retrofit these abominations.

Consider also that airspace is a public commodity. Why are airlines allowed to create a first-class section which consumes excessive space when they are being granted the right to dispense a public commodity? Didn’t we supposedly get rid of the trappings of royalty when we tossed off the yoke of England’s Monarchy?

An additional issue that is being looked at throughout the world is the significant carbon impact of airplanes. The carbon impact is actually lessened when they cram consumers onto planes like cattle headed for slaughter. But they still continue to permit a class system on airplanes. Do us all a favor, abolish first-class seating, and require all planes to be outfitted with uniform comfortable seating.

On occasion, you still get to fly on planes that were designed for consumer comfort, and it is a blessed relief when that happens. I have no idea how larger people travel in airplanes these days — it must be sheer agony. And let’s be honest, it is uncomfortable for all consumers to be seated next to larger people because the airplanes are grossly uncomfortable for everyone except first-class customers.

Yet again, our federal government caters to the needs of the rich and powerful, and it is time that we demanded fair regulations for the majority of Americans.

3.) When flights exceed a certain amount of air-time it should be required that an edible, healthy meal be served with limited options for valid dietary restrictions that are disclosed at the time the ticket is purchased. Those with fringe or fad diets should be required to bring their own food. This policy would help protect consumers from the overpriced crap that is sold in airports throughout America.

4.) Create a uniform training protocol for security personnel. Many do a good job under difficult conditions, but you do meet the occasional individual who thrives on abusing their power. Those people should be ferreted out and either retrained or fired.

While doing this, consider allowing some discretion regarding the individuals singled out for a more thorough search. Most of us have watched searches of individuals that are ludicrous. Do you think they have ever found a silver haired grandma with a bomb tucked away?

5.) Require the creation of cell-phone free zones in our airports. It is virtually impossible to rest in an airport these days because there is always someone three feet away jawing ad nauseum about their hemorrhoids or something even more important.

These are a few suggestions that could make the airways a bit more friendly and tolerable. When you look at the cost of airplane tickets many are a bargain (the one arguable benefit of deregulation). However, most American consumers could pay more for their plane tickets to avoid the abuses that occur daily in America’s airports and airlines.

I’m gritting my teeth and grimacing as I consider my next flights from Mexico to Nepal, but I’m still going. Taking a train or a boat aren’t valid options so I’ll continue to endure the impacts from this near monopoly, but for crying out loud, it is time to pass a Passengers’ Bill of Rights.

Any politician out there with the courage to be a statesman would become an American folk hero overnight if they introduced legislation to protect us from this industry. In the process, they would help to create an atmosphere of comfort, fairness and civility for the majority of consumers as they board their flights.

This is one occasion where returning to the past is a doable good thing. Smiles would abound as we blazed the friendly skies once again. Why not bring something back from the past that is worth retrieving, and get rid of this vestige of a class system.

Jesse Robison is a Pocatello native who has lived in Mexico and other places. He was educated at Idaho State University and University of Idaho. Robison works as a mediator and insurance law consultant, but his passion is public art. He has spearheaded numerous art improvements throughout Pocatello, including the Japanese garden located at Pocatello Regional Airport, and he serves on the Bistline Foundation. Robison currently resides in Pocatello.

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