The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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Fair Is Fair, Unless You're a U.S. Airline
April 2, 2015 -- American Airlines pulled off a nearly seamless, mostly painless merger last weekend of American AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles. Thanks to a slow play, solid planning and limited goals--only frequency plans, not reservations systems, were combined--the mash-up avoided the 2012 United Airlines meltdown and the US Airways 2007 calamity.
Then, of course, the other shoe dropped. Quietly, almost without notice, but with the blunt force we've come to expect from airlines that believe we are flying wallets, not valued customers.
In a little-noticed rewrite of its terms and conditions, American Airlines now unambiguously says that it won't treat you fairly or deal with you honestly. Specifically, it says: "To the full extent allowed by law, these Terms and Conditions disclaim any duty of good faith and fair dealing as well as any implied contractual terms or obligations."
Shocking, eh? No, you're right. Not shocking at all. After all, we've already heard exactly the same thing from Delta Air Lines.
As you surely recall, Delta made its we-don't-play-fair declaration in 2013 in front of the Supreme Court. No flyer, no law and no authority could "superimpose a duty of good faith and fair dealing" on SkyMiles, Delta's lawyer claimed.
Like it or not, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with Delta. And Delta has made liberal use of its we-reserve-the-right-to-screw-you freedom. I eventually expect American to impose some icky new conditions after it finishes the US Airways merger in the next few months. After all, we know where American stands now: No fairness for you.
But here's the funny thing about the universe. Karma's a bitch.
In their recent 55-page attack on the Big Three Gulf carriers, the U.S. airlines outline a wide range of supposed subsidies that the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar use to support Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. As I wrote in Seat 2B a few weeks ago, the battle is raging and U.S. carriers are appealing for support from politicians, commentators, communities and, ironically, frequent flyers.
The name of the Big Three U.S. carriers' campaign against the Big Three Gulf airlines? The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.
You can't make this stuff up. The same airlines telling us that they have no intention or requirement to play fair with us want our support for a campaign they call the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.
I urge you to visit the splash page thrown up by the unholy alliance of Delta, American, US Airways and some labor unions. This is the first line: "The nations of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are funneling billions of dollars in government subsidies to their state-owned airlines, distorting the international aviation market and undermining fair competition."
Oh, my gosh, the Gulf carriers aren't being fair. How 'bout that? How terrible it must be for Delta, United and American. They are not being treated fairly. I wonder what that must feel like.
Not counting the group's name, the words "fair" or "unfair" appear at least six other times just on the splash page. These Gulf airlines and their governments are being so unfair to our poor U.S. Big Three.
Hey, buddy, tell it to the Supreme Court. Sauce for the gander. You screw us, so why should we give a rat's patootie if you're getting screwed by someone else?
If you have nothing better to do this holiday weekend, you could also read the one-page Executive Summary. Here's the money quote: "Evidence gathered during a global, two-year investigation--including newly obtained financial statements and other records--shows that those three state-owned carriers have received $42 billion in quantifiable subsidies and other unfair benefits."
There's that pesky word again: unfair. The Big Three U.S. carriers claim the Big Three Gulf carriers aren't playing fair with them. Like I said, I wonder how that feels. Frequent flyers would have no way of knowing, would we?
If you want to read the full report, let me give you a preview. Over the course of the 55 pages, the words "fair" and "unfair" appear no fewer than 23 times.
The irony of all this is delicious. When I asked folks at the Big Three U.S. airlines about the dichotomy between their telling us they won't deal with us fairly and their complaints about supposedly unfair actions aimed at them by the Big Three Gulf carriers, I got the answers you'd expect.
They're shocked--shocked!--that we're not rallying to their side. They're appalled that we might hold their treatment of us against them in their battle with the Gulf carriers. And they can't imagine that their telling us that they won't deal fairly with us might not track well with their whines about the supposedly unfair treatment they suffer in the global marketplace.
And they certainly have little awareness of the real world when I retorted with the simplest rejoinder I could think of: Fair is fair.
Karma really does trump all. Whether the U.S. airlines understand it or not, they won't be getting any support from us in their battle for "open and fair skies" while they claim they have no "duty of good faith and fair dealing" with us.
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