Vote for Plan B

If you're trying to shoot down a bad plan, it helps to have an alternative on the table. No matter how stupid Plan A might be, its backers are more likely to drop it if there's a workable Plan B nearby.

ASTA appears to have wisely adopted such a strategy in its ongoing battle against a Transportation Department (DOT) plan concerning hazardous materials in passenger baggage. The government's Plan A can only be described as -- well, galactically undesirable.

Readers with good memories (or access to related story, "ASTA urges DOT to rewrite rule on hazmat notification") will recall that ASTA sounded alarm bells in 2012 when it learned that the government wanted to take additional steps to keep hazardous materials out of passenger baggage.

Note that we're not talking about shampoo here, but seriously dangerous goods like fireworks, explosives, compressed gas, flammable liquids, poisons, radioactive materials and such.

The government's Plan A was to require airline and travel agent systems to inhibit ticketing unless and until the airline or agent presented an explanation of the rules to the passengers and obtained the passenger's acknowledgement. Airline systems would also inhibit check-in until the notice was again presented to the passenger and acknowledged.

Plan A was adopted without any input from the industry, though it is not being enforced yet.

ASTA has now come forward with a Plan B, and we like it.

Plan B is simple and has the advantage of borrowing from something the DOT has already done. In ASTA's scenario, the passenger would get the notice on the e-ticket confirmation -- the same place where airlines and agents print out the baggage allowances and fees.

At check-in, whether online or at the airport, passengers can indicate on a checkbox that they've received the notice and understand the rules.

This is vastly simpler than Plan A, and it doesn't impose new costs and redundant burdens on travel agents. ASTA's petition is at www.regulations.gov on docket FAA-2014-0204-0001.

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