Charles Leocha, who heads the travel alliance, says that the system is slowly changing but that to get a sense of the impact consumer groups are having in Washington, you need to take a step back. Many of the most significant changes are happening at the regulatory level, where consumers were hardly represented even a few years ago. Now, it’s rare to see the DOT making a ruling without comments from several consumer groups.
The most effective advocacy comes from building relationships on the ground, “working together with congressional delegations, agencies and all of the major associations to keep the consumer voice included in new rulemakings and laws,” Leocha says.
Yes, the FAA bill was important, he says. But you shouldn’t judge the effectiveness of consumer groups based on a single bill. You should evaluate them on the lower-profile, but equally important, rulings and advisories that shape so much of the air travel experience.
Maybe the fact that air travelers don’t speak with one voice is more of a strength than a weakness. Like air travelers, the groups representing them are diverse. They couldn’t find a common cause in the FAA bill, but perhaps they will next time.
So to answer my second question about whether passengers are adequately represented in Washington: no way.
“Consumer lobbyists were hopelessly outnumbered and outspent by the airline industry,” says Hasbrouck, pointing to the final outcome of the FAA bill, which favored the airlines.
But that’s slowly changing. And that’s good news not only for air travelers but for all travelers.
Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate and the author of “Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals.” E-mail him at email@example.com.