Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Working Against Another Corporate Screw Job

I’ve always loved to travel, as much for the journey as for the destination. As a kid, I fell in love with trains and planes — less so with automobiles, owing (perhaps) to the interminable two-hour rides to my grandmother’s house.

My first plane ride was at age 9, when we flew from New Orleans to Montpelier, Vermont to visit my uncle and his family. I still remember the smell of the DC-3 from what was then Moisant International Airport to Atlanta.
The next leg, to LaGuardia was on the classic Lockheed Constellation, required some reassurance when, as dusk faded to night, the flaming exhaust became visible. Still, the magic of going so far so quickly wasn’t lost on me. Now, as a non-frequent flier on a limited budget that isn’t subsidized by the incestuous commercial relationships, I am no more than one more sardine to be stuffed into a tin can. Ugh.

Trains are a different story. I have no idea where the love of trains began. All I know is it’s always been there, although I remember taking the Louisville & Nashville’s “Hummingbird,” from Biloxi to New Orleans, with the trip being much faster than by car. But, passenger trains in the United States have devolved from the pride of the railroad companies to the underfunded and much-maligned Amtrak. The business community and Babbitts from the Chamber of Commerce have bribed enough legislators to gut Amtrak’s funding; and, then they argue that Amtrak isn’t effective so it needs to be killed off. The Texas Panhandle’s own backbencher Mac Thornberry is in that group of stupid and short-sighted people.

Simultaneously, the airlines — like the corporate highway users such as truckers and inter-city bus companies — benefit from the massive federal subsidies.

Now, travel expert Christopher Elliott tells us that screwing the little guy is even more afoot. In an articlein today’s Washington Post, he points out that United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are among those companies changing their frequent flier programs. As Elliott explains it by citing Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.).

“Frequent-flier programs are rigged to favor airlines, deceive passengers and cost consumers billions of dollars,” according to Grayson. And Grayson plans to do something about it. He has asked the Transportation Department’s inspector general to investigate these bait and switch tactics and the IG has complied. The results should be public in about a year and I’d be hard pressed to believe an honest look at the airline business won’t find these companies be as despicable as Grayson paint them. It’s another case of unfettered “free market” capitalism failing to meet the needs of society.

What will come of the audit and what changes we might expect are far from clear. And, frankly, the things we can do as consumers are limited. But here are some tasks:

Vote — We’re weeks away from mid-term elections. I have little doubt that our lock Mac the Hack will retain his back bench perch. But votes for anyone else would send a message. And nationally, the nation would benefit if in those districts the non-plutocrats can unseat the oligarch incumbents.

Write legislators — Most members of Congress won’t pay attention to you if you’re not a big contributor. Despite the fact that most of us don’t contribute enough to our federal legislators to get them to listen, write anyway. And, write the Secretary of Transportation demanding he make sure the audit is honest and that he supports it.

Write CEOs — Like the bought and paid for people in Congress, CEOs don’t generally give a damn about the consumers like us. That’s OK; write them anyway. And let me know what you hear. Maybe I’ll add that to a later blog.