When airlines merge, who represents your interests? It’s time for the traveling consumer to have a seat at that table.
Not long after I wrote about some of the back-door maneuvering by US Airways to force a merger with American Airlines, my good friend and editor, P.A. Rice, pointed me to a financial column by Ron Lieber of the New York Times.
In it, he posed a simple question: When airlines merge, should you and I, the customers, have at least a voice, if not a say, in what happens?
Mr. Lieber spent 1,400 words saying what I will say in two: Damn right.
You can read the Lieber column here.
Much of the column is an intricately — and in some ways, excruciatingly — detailed examination of the ins and outs of airline mergers and bankruptcy protection, which American is now seeking. “Inside baseball” stuff, as a former editor of mine used to call it.
But that doesn’t mean Mr. Lieber has missed the mark. On the contrary, he is entirely on-point.
When airlines go into bankruptcy proceedings, the bankruptcy court forms a committee of creditors, representing people with a vested interest in the airline’s fate. Large companies to whom it owes money, the unions, with whom it holds labor contracts — and which, in the case of American, hold a sizable amount of its bond debt.
And naturally, American itself, its management, its stockholders, are represented throughout this whole process.
What about the traveling consumer, the man or woman who’s been flying with American for years, in some cases, decades? The loyal customer who has spent thousands of dollars steadfastly earning frequent-flier miles year after year. The person without whom none of these airlines would even exist.
Who represents you?
Routes get reorganized, shrunk. Airports find their number of flights reduced or even eliminated. Through no fault of your own, you lose your miles. And your input into all this is zilch. Everything is presented to you as a fait accompli.
Basically, the consumer is treated like a mushroom — kept in the dark and fed on horse dung.
As the people whose money makes it possible for these businesses to be in business, shouldn’t you at least be heard on some of this stuff?
Mr. Lieber’s answer is a 1,400-word “yes.” Take a look at his column and see if you agree.