Charlie FunkWhen I was growing up, I was taught to turn the other cheek. The problem was that by being passive, I became a skinny target for others who didn't subscribe to a similar philosophy. All they knew was that I wouldn't stand up for myself, and that made me fair game. All the teachers could say was, "Y'all work it out for yourselves."

Back then, bullying wasn't seen as the problem it is now. Hardly a day goes by today that there isn't a local or national report about a student being bullied in some way by fellow students. Sometimes these incidents have tragic endings, with the victim harming themselves or others. Bullying finally has the attention that it should for the damage and destruction it wreaks on the victims.

And just when you thought you were going to get away from bullying by graduating and going to work, it turns out there are bullies in the workforce as well. Sometimes the bully is a co-worker or an employer, a supplier or a governmental agency.

Wherever they are, whatever their guise, bullies use force, threat or coercion to abuse, intimidate or aggressively impose their domination over others. The circumstance is made all the more unpleasant for the victims because they feel helpless to do anything about the problem for fear of escalating the abuse or retribution for standing up for themselves.

For the vast majority of those reading this, the string of letters "14 C.F.R. § 399.88, 49 U.S.C. § 41712(c)" and "14 CFR Part 257" probably mean nothing. If I tell you, though, that the requirement to disclose airline codesharing information on flights is included in these regulations, it takes on meaning.

Since 1999, ticketing agents (among others) have been required to disclose at the earliest possible opportunity to a prospective airline ticket purchaser that some part of the itinerary was operated by an airline other than the primary carrier.

More specifically, ticketing agents were required to disclose the actual name of the codeshare airline, not just the marketing name. It's only in the past three years or so that codeshare disclosure has become a serious focus.

When I began research for this column, it was with the belief that failure to explain a codeshare was somehow a major issue for the traveling public. Here are some things I learned:

  • Between 1995 and 1998, leading up to the legislation enacted in 1999, the Department of Transportation (DOT) received 39 complaints about codeshare arrangements.
  • There were about 102 million phone calls a year during which this disclosure was to be made.
  • The disclosure was estimated to add 15 seconds to the call time.

That means that out of about 400 million calls made in the four years when codeshare disclosure was rarely made, the complaint rate was about 1 in 10 million. Your odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 750,000. You're going to be hit by lightning 13 times before codeshare disclosure becomes a problem for you.

I also learned other things that at times were and are laughable (remember, this was in 1999).

For example, aviation lawyer Jol A. Silversmith wrote in the October 2000 issue of Aviation Quarterly: "Taking into account wages and telephone line expenses, the [DOT] concluded that the rule would increase the airline industry's annual operating costs by $3.4 million and the travel agent industry's costs by $12 million, as well as result in [an] $11.8 million loss of productive time for consumers. The DOT also decided that any added burden would not be prohibitive, in light of the wealth of the airline and travel agent industries. The DOT may have relied more on instinct than on hard data when it concluded that the new rules would benefit consumers."

I always strive to obey the law, follow the rules and not color outside the lines. In this case, I did so to avoid the consequences, but it always seemed only fair that the punishment should be consistent and proportional to the gravity of the violation.

The DOT's Aviation Enforcement Office embarked on a program some three years ago of calling travel agencies and engaging an agent in a discussion about an airline itinerary known to have a codeshare segment.

The purpose was to assure that the agent, unsolicited and unprompted, would fully disclose all required information early on in the call. The penalty for failure to do so -- on the order of $20,000 per infraction -- seems extremely high.

Some agencies were fined more than $100,000, and in 2013, through October, the DOT had collected $430,000 on six fines alone.

That set me to wondering what other crimes would incur a $20,000 fine, Here is what I learned:

  • In Minnesota I could set a house on fire.
  • In Ohio, I could manufacture Schedule 1 or 2 drugs -- and do it near a school.
  • In South Carolina, I could commit second-degree assault and battery eight times.

My point is that the above crimes apparently pale into insignificance with the heinous nature of failing to advise a caller that UA5940 flying from Nashville to Washington Dulles on July 2 is operated by ExpressJet doing business as United Express, not United Airlines.

It's like this: I think DOT Aviation Enforcement Office staff act like bullies when they single out ticketing agents and call them to entrap the agency enforcing a law that, in the opinion of many, does little if anything to benefit consumers. Just because it's the law doesn't make it right.

I have decided to do what I couldn't/wouldn't do when I was in school: I'm going to stand up and let my voice be heard. I'm going to write my senators and representatives about the inequity of this law and its enforcement against small businesses that could well be put out of business with a single infraction.

I'm going to write members of the Senate subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security to draw their attention to the negative impact the disproportionate penalties of this law have on small businesses.

I'm tired of being bullied and doing nothing about it.

Charlie and Sherrie Funk own Just Cruisin' Plus in Brentwood, Tenn., and have provided agent and agency-owner training throughout North America on every facet of travel agency operations. They are two of nine travel agent members of the CLIA Hall of Fame.

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