Flying has become a modern-day version of getting into a cattle car. Consolidation of the industry has limited competition, leading to a decline in customer service.
A first-year economics student could tell you that consumers win when companies compete, yet this is a concept that seems entirely foreign to Ed Bastain, the CEO of Delta Airlines.
Mr. Bastain is an ardent defender of mergers in the American airline industry. In fact, he proclaims them to be “unambiguously great.” Consolidation of existing companies would be permissible if competition was allowed, but it appears that Bastain and his company are also working to limit the number of market participants.
The reason Bastain may want to squash the free market is that increased competition would force his company to either curb its draconian policies or pummel into bankruptcy.
Remember: Delta was the airline that went full Kaepernick, refusing to allow a passenger to sing the national anthem when Army Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, a fallen American soldier, was onboard on the flight. When passenger Pamela Gaudry noticed she was accompanied by the fallen hero and began singing, Delta said it was “against company policy to do that and so we are going to land and everybody is going to stay in their seats and be quiet.”
The patriotic Ms. Gaudry blamed herself for failing to ignore the orders of the flight attendant, telling the world in a viral video that:
“I’m humiliated by my lack of courage to sing the national anthem in my own country on American soil with a deceased soldier on the plane. I just sat there with tears rolling down my face. Hundreds of thousands of people now know that Dustin Wright died for our country and there were a lot of people on that plane that wanted to honor him. Hundreds of thousands of people are praying for this family now that weren’t.”
As his company makes national headlines for what is perceived to be a lack of humility, Bastain is leading the effort to prevent competitors from entering the marketplace and offering more reasonable terms of service.
Recently, the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, a coalition that represents Bastain’s Delta, hired SKDKnickerbocker, a lobbying and public relations shop full of Obama and Clinton acolytes, to pressure the Trump administration into freezing existing Open Skies agreements. These pacts allow airlines from other countries to fly between American cities, as well as American airlines to fly to foreign destinations.
Specifically, the coalition is asking the government to prohibit Gulf State airlines from entering the marketplace. They argue that foreign governments’ heavy subsidization of their airlines creates an “unfair playing field,” which needs leveling through this sanction of sorts.
Delta’s protectionist argument will not fly with consumers, who are already nickeled and dimed to death on bag and seat fees and will not tolerate further price hikes. Not long ago, a bipartisan group previously rejected similar arguments when they temporarily killed the Export-Import Bank, an institution they billed as being a perpetrator of corporate welfare.
It is laughable for Delta to suggest that the government does not subsidize American airlines. For starters, the US does not tax bag fees, which bring billions into the coffers of the carriers. Specifically, Delta benefited from Canadian subsides when they purchased Bombardier aircraft, all while the Trump administration slapped that very plane with new tariffs after finding it benefited from government largess.
It seems Delta and its cohorts love to compete, but only in a non-competitive marketplace. Unfortunately for them, the Trump administration will continue siding with American consumers by adhering to the Open Skies agreements, no matter how hard they lobby.
Instead of spending extravagant sums on this futile lobbying campaign, perhaps they should be investing that money in improving consumer relations. It may only be a matter of time until they learn this lesson the hard way when new competitors arise.