Imagine if an event company or facility kept raising prices and cutting service, created huge logistical roadblocks for customers, proved incapable of turning a profit, then pushed back on regulators’ attempts to smarten up their practices?
How long would that company stay in business? How much sympathy could they expect from customers, the government, or meetings industry colleagues?
No event company or facility that I know of has actually done that, but the airlines certainly have. The latest from the airlines is their apparent horror at new regulations brought on by their own disregard for passengers’ comfort, dignity, and pocketbooks.
“We’re concerned that this is the biggest reregulation since deregulation [in 1978],” huffed Doug Lavin, regional vice president for North America at the International Air Transport Association, in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. “They are intruding into the private sector.”
For meeting professionals who’ve had their own barricades to storm in the last couple of years, the implication is that anyone with an ounce of sense or self-interest will immediately leap to the airlines’ defense. But it isn’t that simple. The airlines are the architects of their own misfortune, and when they’ve introduced new rules or fees in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, our participants and clients have often paid the price.
When we hear that a limit on wait times will lead to more flight cancellations, we’re expected to forget the outrageous tarmac delays that pretty much made reregulation a done deal.
When IATA warns of “substantial, uncalculated costs” that will be passed on to consumers, think of the fees and extras that have risen 15.8 percent in the last year in the U.S. (and more than 50 percent at some individual airlines).
As one of the larger bulk markets for long-haul travel, our industry has an odd symbiosis with the airlines: While they need us to fill their planes, we need them to fill our plenary halls. But it’s hard to see why we should encourage regulators to back down and leave travelers (including our participants) stranded, particularly when the airlines themselves aren’t exactly speaking with one voice.
In the WSJ article, New York University School of Law lecturer Michael E. Levine, an architect of the 1978 deregulation and former senior executive with three U.S. airlines, points to the airlines’ double standard. “The industry can't say ‘Look! We want to be treated like a normal industry but don't want consumer protection.’”
“Fact is, we got ourselves in this mess,” admitted Doug Parker, chair and chief executive of US Airways, in the same article. “If you don't fix it, you'll get legislation. The legislation is not going to be perfect, and there will be unintended consequences, but we just have to deal with it.”
For meeting professionals, the key point in this story is that we are the consumers. Our dependency on air travel is a larger issue that goes to the heart of meeting design, but that won’t be solved by making it even more expensive and inconvenient to fly.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., (http://www.theconferencepublishers.com/) Ottawa, Ontario, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.