Tell Congresswoman Gabbard Not to Sell the Sky
July 22, 2017
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  • Efficiency, compassion, timeliness and integrity: These are all words that nobody in their right mind would ever associate with today’s airline industry. And yet, just recently, a U.S. House panel voted to put the major commercial airlines in charge of air traffic control nationwide.

    Here’s how this brilliant idea works: All air traffic control, both in terms of safety and the collection of fees, would be handed over to a private corporation that the major airlines largely control. This basically places the very sky, itself, under the authority of the same geniuses who brought us such innovations as “non-internet booking fees” and dragging customers off of overbooked flights. Only an abject fool would entrust the people responsible for one of America’s most failed industries with such unchecked power.

    History has shown time and again that privatization simply does not work. A perfect example of this is our private health care system. By leaps and bounds, it’s the most economically inefficient in the industrialized world. The notion that private corporations always do things better is an all-too common myth.

    Another problem is that the same airlines that brag about inventing new fees to compensate for a fundamentally broken business model would essentially have the power to collect from anyone who wants to fly, including licensed pilots in their own private planes, which groups like the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association strongly oppose. If you were to charter a private flight out of Lihue Airport, for example, either you or the pilot would still be on the hook for whatever fees the airlines demand.

    Unsurprisingly, the major airlines are willing to pay large sums of money to “persuade” members of Congress to let them have their way yet again. That’s why it’s important for voters to examine their representatives’ campaign contributions and make sure they’re held accountable.

    Whenever anyone criticizes our politicians for being on the take, the politicians always respond by insisting that campaign contributions don’t have any effect, whatsoever, on how they vote. The fact that they always seem to vote the way their biggest donors want is purely a coincidence.

    So here’s my preemptive response to that argument: Prove it, Ms. Gabbard. Prove it by voting against any legislation that would hand over our public skies to the airline industry. Prove it by standing up for your constituents instead of the special interests who so eagerly line your pockets.

    If you’re still not convinced, imagine what the world might look like with the airlines in charge of everything. Let’s say you’re hungry, so you make a reservation at your favorite restaurant and get seated at a table. As you’re looking over the menu, trying to decide whether to order the chicken or the fish, the waiter arrives and says you’ve been bumped because they overbooked. There are no refunds, but they can get you on the next open table tomorrow at 4:05 a.m. if you don’t mind sitting next to the service entrance.

    Don’t eat out much? OK, let’s see how your trip to the supermarket goes instead. Following a three-hour wait in the checkout line, you finally get to the front. After you pay the cashier, the bagging clerk informs you that your bags were mistakenly sent to Kendall-Tamiami, Florida. Don’t worry, though; you should have your groceries back in about six to eight weeks.

    To be fair, there are some things that the airline industry might do well. They would be uniquely qualified to oversee our nation’s prisons, for example. After all, if anyone knows how to herd people like cattle into a small, overcrowded space and make them wait an excruciatingly long period of time, it’s the airlines. On the other hand, even prisoners are allowed to use the bathroom …

    I could go on, but I believe I’ve made my point. Regardless of your ideological views on government and privatization, handing control of our skies over to the big airlines is about as bone-headed a move as Congress could make. That is why I urge you to call Congresswoman Gabbard at (202) 225-4906 and tell her not to outsource our safety to the airline industry.

    Kris Craig lives in College Place, Washington.