Resistance to Competition Proposal Jars DOT

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WASHINGTON -- The Transportation Department has been inundated with comments on its proposed airline competition policy, and so far the sentiment appears to be running against it, with some surprising opposition.

The proposed policy would punish airlines that try to eliminate new-entrant competition by adding more seats than they need and slashing prices. More than 1,000 individuals, businesses, legislators, unions, airlines, airport authorities and other community representatives, as well as a handful of travel agencies, had filed comments as the July 24 deadline approached.

Although the proposal has its backers, it does not appear to be winning broad support from the small communities, consumer groups and businesses that might have been expected to rally behind it. DOT officials have been surprised by some of the opposition, particularly among small- and medium-sized communities, which are concerned that the policy could result in less service to their areas.

For example, Chattanooga, Tenn., has pushed to bring better service to similar-sized communities. Nonetheless, the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority opposed the proposal, saying that if a new entrant began service to Chattanooga, and United added a flight or two to compete, the DOT might take action against United for increasing capacity, "the exact opposite of what consumers in underserved markets like Chattanooga need."

The National Business Travel Association applauded the DOT's effort, but said the policy needs to focus on airline dominance at hubs, which it views as the main cause of rising business fares.

The Travel Agencies Association of Mid-Michigan also supported the proposal.

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