Monday, November 15, 2010

Why am I doing this?

I got the following email and, since it is civilly written, I wanted to answer it. Because others may have similar questions (there are some questions along these lines in the comments section on this blog), I'm including the original email and my response in [brackets].

As a frequent flyer, it is with great interest that I read your recent post and open letter to US Airways regarding the body scanners, your ticket change and your rental car expense. As a fellow blogger, I wanted to share some of my own thoughts with you.

Firstly, I am definitely on your side in that I despise the scanners. I have absolute privacy concerns, but I also have safety concerns, as millimeter waves (as you probably know) have not yet been proven to be completely safe. I avoid them whenever possible. This means that if I am in a situation where I have to choose, I go for the pat-down. It's not fun, and for a child, it's certainly a Hobson's choice.
 [This goes beyond "not fun" for me. It is absolutely wrong. Could be because I'm a woman that this bothers me more than you, although I realize that not all women agree with me.]

I think your anger is misdirected, however. You have every right to be angry, but it's definitely not the airlines' (note the plural) fault that the devices are being installed. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has awarded contracts to install these in virtually every American airport within the next decade. This is a function of the federal government, not the airlines. Your blaming US Airways is the equivalent of blaming a rental car company for the fact that the local police have set up an intrusive DUI checkpoint.
 [Of course I'm angry at the TSA. I just know that fighting the TSA is even more pointless than fighting the airlines. I know that companies value keeping customers happy, helping their bottom lines, and avoiding bad PR or litigation, so I'm putting my efforts here.

I take issue with you analogy, though. The car rental company has no property right in the roads, so they have no responsibility to protect that property. However, the car rental company could decide it is too expensive to hire a security guard for their local office. Instead, they might collude with the other car rental companies to allow the local police to provide security for their offices, treating every customer like a criminal. In this case, you might have a point. But we all know how stupid such a set-up would be.]
Your contention that the airline is somehow complicit in the TSA's actions is absurd. You have acknowledged that the airlines' own employee unions have spoken out against the scanners, and since airports are owned by local governments and air travel is a function of the Federal Aviation Authority, there's little the airlines (private businesses) can do. You've made vague allusions to "standing up" and acquiring a "backbone," but outside of that, what is it exactly that an airline is supposed to do? The government controls who goes into an airport to get on an airline's flights, full stop. You have to know this. Even with a boarding pass, TSA can stop and detain a passenger. Why do you think an airline can overrule the government?
 [Once upon a time (actually not too long ago, but Americans have really short collective memories), airlines were in charge of their own security. Since they owned the expensive airplanes, paid a lot to rent terminals and hangers, and were legally liable for passenger and employee safety, they were the ones who paid for and operated their own security. That kind of makes sense to me. In any event, the TSA is less than 10 years old, so it's not like their existence and practices are set in stone.

The airlines have way more lobbying power than I do, so I'm appealing to them to use it on my behalf. If you think the airlines were not involved in security negotiations until now, you're living in a fantasy world. If the airlines did not explicitly lobby for these security measures (and there is evidence that they did in at least some cases in the last 40 years) then they at least kept their mouths shut while they were enacted. Hence, no backbone and complicity.]
At any rate, as I go along, I notice that you are also upset with the airline's handling of your rerouting and rental car. While I can't see your ticket, I can guess that your ticket was probably, like most, a non-refundable ticket, which comes with a change fee. You elected to change the ticket. The airline was not bound to change anything for you, but did so at their own expense as a courtesy because of your concerns. That seems like a goodwill gesture, especially since they took a loss on that.
 [First off, US Air initially said they would not waive the change fee, so, at first, there was no good will from them. I'm glad they waived the change fee. I just think that their "good will" has not gone far enough.]
At this point, you are now flying out of a different airport, one which is certainly much further for you. But again, you chose to fly out of this airport. I'm confused at your logic here. You are upset that neither the airline nor the travel agency would pay for your driving expenses to fly out of another airport of your choosing. I'm going to try to approach this from two other perspectives:
 [The other airport is "of my choosing" only if you believe that having a choice between having my human rights violated or flying is an actual choice. I happen to think this is not a choice. Also, these scanners are going into airports in an almost stealth manner. Passengers are not notified where the scanners are and, having made the same trip not too long before booking my original tickets sans scanners and therefore having a reasonable expectation that my rights would not be violated come Christmas, I do not feel that the original ticket was sold to me in good faith.]
A) If I am in Houston, but suddenly change my mind and my ticket and decide to fly out of Oklahoma City, should the airline have to pay my expenses in driving to Oklahoma City to catch the flight?
[Did you just change your mind, or did you find out that your human rights are more likely to be violated in the former?]
B) You order supplies for one of your courses. The supplier decides on its own to ship from another warehouse further away. They then send you a bill for the additional shipping charges. Should you be responsible for that? 
 [I don't see how this is relevant, but let me take a stab at it. The short answer is no. But if the supplier is following some stipulation in our contract, or I deceived the supplier when I originally made the order so that they underbid, then it's possible that I am responsible.]
As I said before, I completely understand your frustration with the TSA, but I think not only has the baby gone out with the bathwater here, so has the tub. You are clearly unhappy with the screening procedures, but it doesn't seem right to take it out on an airline who did its best to accommodate you around those procedures at your request. Your request with the airline placed you in such a predicament that you have to create even more transportation just to get to your transportation, and you blame the airline for that. I'm trying awfully hard, because I want to be on your side all the way here, but I just can't see how that makes sense.
 [My husband and I have spent many hours evaluating our options. Driving four hours out of my way is by far the best option in terms of time and money if we are going to get to California for Christmas. (For anyone who is not familiar with American geography, our destination is about 3000 miles away the way as the crow flies.) Why is the airline responsible? See the argument for their complicity above.

Don't get me wrong - the TSA is responsible. But I've got zero chance of making a dent with them. At least I have the status of customer with the airline.]
With that said, I hope that two things come out of this: 1) I hope that you'll drop this silly campaign against US Airways and Orbitz, who are really innocent bystanders in your argument with the TSA, and 2) you join progressive groups like the ACLU and PFAW who are fighting against increasing government intrusion every day.
[I'm not going away until US Air, Orbitz, and the rest of them are utterly humiliated and/or stand up for their customers' rights. Sorry. If those of us who are opposed to the TSA procedures stop flying out of certain airports or stop flying altogether, we should tell the airlines why and give them a chance to respond.

I applaud any group that is fighting for my rights. I firmly believe that more voices are better than fewer, so I'll keep doing this my way for now. If I did join a larger group, it would not be a progressive group since that's not where my political sensibilities lie.]
The DC-area airports are yours to use. You shouldn't have to feel like you have to go elsewhere because of the government. But at the same time, you shoudn't blame others when you do.
 [I actually don't think the DC area airports are mine. I think that they are the airlines' to use (through rental rights). I can then choose to patronize the airlines. If I choose to patronize the airlines, then I will avoid any situations which I think are a violation of my property (eg, my body). If they are trying to invade my property, then I should be able to get a refund or make alternative arrangements at their expense. If I am not told when I buy my tickets that my property will be invaded in such a disgusting manner, then I think I can definitely blame the airline and vendor that sold me the tickets.]
Wishing you the safest of travels,