New magicians quickly learn the importance of misdirection, which allows the illusionist’s sleight of hand to be accomplished undetected. This skill was on vivid display Monday when President Trump endorsed the airline industry’s latest effort to distract the flying public from the deplorable state of air travel in the USA.
Instead of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, the president’s plan to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system would magically shift billions of dollars in new fees onto passengers. All that was missing from the president’s remarks was a “ta-da!” at the end.
Behind the smoke and mirrors of the latest air traffic control privatization push is the airlines’ desperate need to shift the public’s focus from a string of bad P.R. Just this year, we witnessed the violent removal of Dr. David Dao from a United Airlines flight, an American Airlines customer manhandled for not properly stowing a baby stroller, and a near riot by Spirit passengers. Consumers have also been plagued by massive computer outages at Delta, Southwest and United.
The White House’s privatization road map highlights the hocus-pocus the industry wants the public to ignore.
The plan would take away the Federal Aviation Administration’s critical role in running the air traffic control system and replace it with an unelected non-profit board dominated by the largest airlines and their allies.
Consumers — who already endure outrageous nickel-and-diming for the privilege of cramming into cramped seats, aisles and bathrooms — would not get a say.
Under the proposal, airlines would be free to raise user fees through the roof without oversight from Congress or judicial review.
Ultimately, it’s entirely possible that the critical safety and security mission the FAA plays could fall victim to the airlines’ insatiable quest for profits.
Consumers and their champions in Congress must not let the airlines and their enablers in Washington pull a fast one on the flying public. It’s time for the curtain to fall permanently on the air traffic control privatization show.
Sally Greenberg is executive director of the National Consumers League.