It is high time that someone took a closer look at the current state of airline travel ["Airlines Slow to Learn Honesty Has Its Virtue," Business, June 13]. Airlines, however, have a larger credibility issue than the communication issues regarding the cause of delayed takeoffs.

If a passenger suspects that his ticket could have been purchased for $100 less if the reservation had been made 15 minutes later, that customer feels hornswoggled by the airlines even before the pilot lies about why the plane is sitting on the runway. Airlines appear less than trustworthy when they sacrifice price integrity by constantly changing fares.



As a travel agent, I agree with the June 13 Business story "21 Days, 18 Flights" that "airline service has become such a crowded, strained experience that just arriving at an airport can raise stress levels."

Unfortunately, most major carriers act as if there is not a problem. On June 17 the airline industry unveiled a "voluntary" self-policing strategy to address airline passengers' discontent. Over the past several months, there has been a rising tide of passenger discontent with the quality of service, and that tide is now breaking over the airlines in a wave of proposed federal legislation. The June 17 move is an indication that the public's cry for federal intervention has struck a nerve and that the carriers are scrambling for some device to avoid having meaningful pro-consumer legislation enacted.

Unfortunately for travelers, the airlines' "customer first" proposal is too little too late. Last summer, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) issued its Air Traveler's Bill of Rights, a set of principles travel agents hoped would lead the airlines to adopt more customer-friendly service standards. To date, the airlines' reply has been its classic response -- that legislation to set some minimum passenger service standards will raise costs and reintroduce regulation that was abandoned 20 years ago.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As ASTA has testified before Congress, "How much does courtesy cost?" Most of these pro-consumer items, such as truth in advertising and timely information and assistance regarding delays and cancellations, won't cost the airlines anything but a change in attitude. One provision of Rep. John Sweeney's H.R. 2200 -- the most comprehensive current passenger-rights legislation on the Hill -- would allow consumers to use all, part or none of their airline tickets.

Most problems with airline service rest squarely on the shoulders of the airlines. They created the problem, and until they are willing to admit to it, they cannot be trusted to fix it.



American Society of Travel Agents


Robert Kuttner's June 14 op-ed column on airline deregulation looked to further federal action to save the failed policy of airline deregulation.

Mr. Kuttner admits the industry is prone to monopoly power yet says that a few tweaks could remove this inherent tendency.

The real problem is that airline deregulation is a failed policy, conceived without a care about what gives rise to monopoly power and how to deal with the exercise of such power.

Instead, deregulation advocates left the airlines to figure out how best to "compete," blithely trusting in "market discipline" to produce a good result for consumers, airline employees and society at large.

Well, the airlines did come up with a mechanism for competing in the new environment -- and it focused on the hub-city strategy that Mr. Kuttner finds so offensive. As a result, airline employees' wages suffered to support this strategy for several decades. Also, consumers suffered from what Mr. Kuttner intimates is irrational pricing, longer waiting times and poorer service generally. Finally, society at large has borne the costs of supporting an air transportation system that does not serve the public well.