FAA has formed a government-study group to determine whether airlines can be permitted to allow passengers more widespread use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) during flight.
What bothers me about the FAA press release announcing this, however, is this statement from DOT secretary Ray LaHood: “With so many different types of devices available, we recognize that this is an issue of consumer interest.”
To be fair, LaHood goes on to state "safety is our highest priority, and we must set appropriate standards."
But my problem here is that safety should be DOT's ONLY priority. It's the sticking its nose into "consumer interest" that irks me in a supposedly deregulated industry where the only government-controlled consumer interest should be safety. Consumers expect to be safe and for regulatory bodies to set standards that ensure their safety to the best possible degree. But when it comes to delivering the bells and whistles, and at what price, that's a decision that should be left to the individual airlines. We all know that everyone these days wants to be connected 24-7-365 to their favorite gadget, but let the airlines decide how much market value to put on that option if and when it's been certified as safe.
This falls into the same dubious circle as the growing government concern about airlines charging ancillary fees. Again, if an airline is operating to all FAA safety standards, DOT needs to get the heck out of how that airline runs the financial side of its business.
OR, we need to play fair and create a Department of Ground Services that dumps the same "consumer" rules on other travel service businesses.
Here are couple of examples of hotel reservation offers I've just pulled up online at two major US hotel chains. In this case, both hotels are in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is an "unincorporated territory of the United States." What that means is about as hard to explain as The Falklands being a "self-governing British overseas territory," but I digress. If you are an American flying from New York to San Juan, you don't need a passport and you don't see an immigration desk.
But if you went to find an available room and rate in September at what I will call Hotel H, you will be quoted this:
1 KING BED OCEAN VIEW Price: $242.00
Only after you give your details will you also be given this information:
Totals listed here are estimated based on current taxes and exchange rates (if applicable) and do not include additional fees/charges that may be incurred during your stay.
A 16% daily resort charge plus tax will be added to your rate and includes: health club and tennis court access, beach umbrellas, newspaper and certain beach activities . This charge is in addition to the rate quoted and is not a government imposed charge.
Similarly, if you selected Hotel M, you would get this less-than-transparent information after selecting your room and rate:
Regular rate, a resort fee applies
Nowhere could I find the percentage or rate for the "resort fee" for Hotel M, or even a description of what's included.
Hotel H does give you the percentage, but leaves you to work out the actual cost, but clearly does not allow you to opt out of the "health club and tennis court access, beach umbrellas, newspaper and certain beach activities" options that the fee covers. I hate health clubs, tennis clubs, most beach activities, and all umbrellas unless they are tiny, paper and perched on top of a glass; and being a journalist, the last thing I want at a beach resort is a newspaper.
Sorry, the fee is mandatory; use it or lose it. Just for the record, that's 39 bucks I'm going to lose.
So where's the consumer-minded DOT when I need it? Ah! Hotels don't have wheels or rails or wings. And they don't have lawmakers and regulatory bodies crying foul.