Trade groups want their piece of pie in the sky

Sunday, December 6, 2009

No one would claim that any of the new travel-related laws scheduled to take effect in 2010 are game-changers for travelers. They're relatively minor: a new credit card rule here, a new airport security policy there.

But what kind of law would really improve your travel experience next year?

Instead of asking readers for their opinions, as I do every week, I decided to hand the mike to the trade organizations in Washington that represent various parts of the travel industry. Specifically, I wanted to know which law they'd like to see passed in 2010 that they think would most benefit travelers.

The short answer? Most trade groups want laws authorizing Congress to spend more money, which they say will help us.

An overwhelming majority of the organizations I spoke with said that reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration would be in our best interests. (The bill would fund the FAA through 2012 and improve aviation safety and capacity, among other things.)

"For the sake of the traveling public, the bill should include a new funding commitment for a next-generation air traffic control system and new protections for passengers who are subjected to lengthy flight delays," said William Maloney, the chief executive of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).

True, the $53.5 billion FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 would fund much-needed modernization of air traffic control systems. That eventually could make air travel a better overall experience, with greater efficiency and fewer delays. But the so-called "passenger rights" provisions for long flight delays, including a turn-back rule for flights delayed on the tarmac, would affect only a fraction of air travelers.

Speaking of airlines, I wondered what my friends at the Air Transport Association thought would help passengers. James May, the group's chief executive, gave more or less the same answer as his counterpart at ASTA.

"Legislation designating airspace modernization as a national priority and full funding to ensure an accelerated, focused implementation," he said in an e-mail.

Curiously, no mention of the so-called "passenger rights" provisions in the current bill.

I got more or less the same answer from the U.S. Travel Association, which claims to represent and speak for "the common interests of the American travel industry." Roger Dow, the group's president, called air traffic modernization "our number-one legislative priority."

Ditto for the National Business Travel Association, which represents corporate travel. It "would like to see Congress take a 'man to the moon' approach to upgrading the air traffic control system," said Mike McCormick, the association's executive director and chief operating officer.

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