Given the media's penchant for furthering populist anti-business rhetoric, especially when it comes to beleaguered industries like the airlines, I must confess it was a bit refreshing to see a mainstream journalist skeptical of a legislative push to stick it to the commercial aviation sector.
In her April 13 Swampland blog post, "Bashing the Airlines -- Always a Safe Political Bet," Time's Kate Pickert pointed out the illogical and populist silliness of a new bill before Congress aimed at punishing airliners that would charge passengers for carry-on bags (emphasis mine):
With family on the West Coast, I fly a lot and can attest that there is something to carry on about regarding carry ons. To ensure you'll find a place to put your bag once on board, you now have to stalk the gate – standing closer and closer to the ticket taker waiting for your “zone” to be called. Board the plane even slightly late and there's a good chance the overhead compartments will already be stuffed by the time you arrive on board with your bulging “small” suitcase.
Spirit Airlines is the first carrier to react, recently announcing they will charge passengers for carry on bags. Blasphemy! Cue the politics.
Democratic Senators Ben Cardin and Mary Landrieu have introduced a bill that would make it illegal for airlines to charge for carry on luggage. They're calling their legislation the Free of Fees for Carry-On Act. This seems like pandering at its most obvious.
As much as we hate many of the changes airlines have made in recent years – many of them due to increased fuel prices – this is business. If passengers don't want to pay Spirit's extra carry-on fee, they can seek a seat elsewhere – unless, of course, all airlines follow Spirit's lead. But even then, is it really unfair to charge the most laden passengers more than the light packers? After all, every pound on an airplane uses up more fuel. But what politician will stand up and say, “No, passengers with more stuff should pay more!”? I'm not holding my breath.
Pickert later went on confess that there was one measure in the Cardin-Landrieu bill that she didn't think was too much to require of all airlines:
One section of the Cardin/Landrieu bill would require airlines to disclose to the public and transportation secretary all fees they apply to flights, from on-board meals to checked baggage. This seems reasonable.
At least the aim of that particular regulation would be to empower consumers by giving them fuller information before purchase, rather than micromanaging what airlines can and can't charge fees for.
All too often, frequent-flying members of mainstream media find business a convenient whipping boy, none perhaps more so than the airlines. It's refreshing to see a journalist call out pandering populism for what it is.