Boss of Me Airlines

by Gray Cargill on June 21, 2008

I’m thinking of implementing a new weekly feature here in my blog called “Airline Outrage of the Week”. What do you think? With all the new policies airlines are implementing that curtail passenger rights and increase our fees, it’s beginning to feel like the skies have become a fascist state. This week’s airline outrage comes from United, which has decided to be the boss of all of us by telling us how long we’re allowed to stay somewhere if we want to fly with them. According to the Associated Press newswire, United will now require all domestic, economy-class travelers to stay 1 to 3 nights at their destination (the number of nights depends on the destination, length of flight and cost of ticket) or a have a weekend night stay. The theory is that this will prevent big budget corporate travelers from snapping up all the economy seats for single-day business travel. I hate to clue United in, but I don’t know too many businesspeople who have the budget to fly first or business class who would choose to fly steerage–er, economy class. (Or at least, I know I wouldn’t.)

I should be relieved by this news. Leisure travelers are least likely to be impacted by this, since most (although not all, of course) will usually be traveling over a weekend and/or stay for 1-3 nights at their destination. The fewer same-day business travelers who are sucking up all the economy-class seats, the more will be left at the good prices for leisure travelers like me. (Of course, United already nailed leisure travelers last week with the new baggage fee policy. They’re just spreading the misery around equally, I suppose.) But just because this particular rule isn’t likely to impact me doesn’t mean it’s right. Remember that poem that goes:

“They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew,”

and the poem goes on until the final phrase:

“Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

There are some small businesses (not to mention nonprofit organizations) that don’t have the budget for first class or business class travel. They’re lucky to have a travel budget at all. Those traveling employees may now need to restrict their travel, which will undoubtedly have a negative impact on their bottom line due to lost deals and lost major gifts from donors–because relationships are what it’s all about, and there’s only so much you can develop a relationship over the phone or by email. Sometimes, it takes a face-to-face visit to seal the deal. It’s hard enough to run a small business or nonprofit in this country to begin with, what with inflation, people cutting back on their spending due to the economy, the rising cost of health care, and just plain competition, but if travel now has to be curtailed, it could drive some of these businesses and nonprofits under.

The upshot is that it really is none of United Airlines’ business how long I plan to stay somewhere or why I’m traveling there to begin with (as long as it’s not a matter of national security). They have a right to make money by selling seats on their planes. That’s it. They do not have the right to dictate the conditions under which people travel, either for business or leisure. If I want to fly into New York City for one day to see a Broadway play midweek and fly back that night, by God I should be allowed to, and I should be allowed to buy a cheap seat if one is available. Even the government doesn’t have the audacity to tell us how long we have to stay somewhere when we travel.

I hope the ACLU sticks it to United for violating our civil liberties. Consider this me, putting a bug in the ACLU’s ear. Sic ’em, tiger.

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