Embarrassing is the word for the Air Transport Association's abrupt
cancellation the other day of a press conference called to ballyhoo
the airlines' preemptive strike against a host of passenger
fairness bills up for consideration in Congress.
Determined to beat legislators (and, perhaps, the Department of
Transportation) to the punch, the ATA was prepared to unveil its
own "voluntary" code of behavior when it pulled a Houdini and made
the news briefing disappear before the eyes of assembled
Apparently, the ATA presentation was bumped after last-minute
protests by Senate leaders, including the influential John McCain
(R-Ariz.), that they had not signed off on the airlines'
But do not be fooled. The ATA will be back. According to
observers, McCain and others are negotiating with the airline group
to toughen up provisions of the voluntary industry code, which,
when formalized, might well take the steam out of the movement to
legislate enforceable rules of conduct.
Certainly, if McCain -- the sponsor of one fairness bill himself
and sympathetic to provisions in others -- signs on to self-imposed
ATA mandates, a powerful force behind passenger fairness
legislation will be compromised.
At the same time, ASTA is advancing its own consumer protection
legislation, which incorporates the provisions of its year-old Air
Traveler's Bill of Rights into one comprehensive measure. The
Society's manifesto included the right to access unbiased travel
information and to use back-to-back and hidden-city tickets.
But with an agreement seemingly imminent between the ATA and
influential members of Congress, we can only wonder if ASTA's
legislative initiative will prove to be too little, too late and if
the airlines, for all intents and purposes, will continue to be
entrusted with monitoring their own conduct.