A Congressman. A Conversation. A Dilemma.

A Congressman. A Conversation. A Dilemma.

One recent morning it rang and I found myself talking to a reader of this magazine–Representative Alan Grayson–who is serving his second term in Congress representing the state of Florida. It’s not every day I get to talk to a Congressman, and when he is a subscriber, it makes the phone conversation that much more interesting. He wanted to chat about his request for the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General to compile an audit for frequent flyer programs–something Grayson knows a lot about from his own experience.

His interest wasn’t piqued from a personal level or constituent complaint, but rather from reading an appropriations bill that had to do with transportation and housing–and realizing that in the compiled research it implied there were dormant powers with the National Association of Attorneys General.

Early on in the conversation, it became clear that this Congressman isn’t just a politician on a mission of grandstanding for constituents; rather he is a bona fide elite member of both American AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles. And like all other frequent flyer members, has suffered through the changes taking place.

Unlike many others who have commented on the audit, I did not get the feeling nor do I believe, that the audit is related to any regulation of these programs. Sorry if that is contrary to how you see it, but it’s my thought at this moment.

During the lengthy conversation, Congressman Grayson came across as extremely well schooled and researched on the topic and we both see that “the system” already contains ample oversight on this issue–and it’s really just a matter of enforcing or suggesting that certain oversight be applied.
The issue, he says, is deceptive practices by the airlines. And while the use of the term “deceptive” is used all too often when it comes to the availability of awards, the airlines can get around this issue by pointing out the availability of their Standard or Premium awards–but not many, including myself, want to pay that number of miles for awards in any class.

Most of my interest, which he was keenly attuned to and what we both seemed to agree upon, are changes without notice and what length of time should/could be considered a reasonable notice of change. We both agree strongly that if any portion of the audit has the ability to become a “voluntary” guideline, it would be this issue.

But I’m still not convinced that the audit, its results or any Congressman can overcome some of the extreme hurdles that face any oversight of these programs.

My thoughts on this matter are framed in the context of the review that escalated to the United States Supreme Court relating to the American Airlines, Inc., Petitioner, v. Myron Wolens et al. in which the Illinois court reasoned that frequent flyer programs are “peripheral”, not “essential”, to an airline’s operation, which is why almost all actions on a State and Federal level have not fared well.

Throw in the words and actions of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (ADA), the National Association of Attorneys General, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Trade Commission–all of which have some statutory authority–when you think of this latest move. It’s been 33 years now that this topic has been raised up and down various flagpoles and introduced and debated by none other than the United States Supreme Court down to every single frequent flyer who ever was “mad as hell” and spent their mileage run money on filing a petition to the courts. Add in several Congressmen and Senators in the middle and you and I see where we are now.

Bottom line: I had an extremely enjoyable conversation with the Congressman and came away impressed by his commitment to this issue, and for the right reasons. I also came away thinking that the readers of InsideFlyer continue to be very, very impressive.

All that aside, I don’t see any progress here from this audit. And while the Congressman said that he could also engage his fellow legislators to pass mandates in this area, my immediate thought is that there’s far greater concerns for our politicians, and those topics will likely drain away and prolong action or interest in this, just as it has in years gone by. I’ve got a feeling that somehow, someway, frequent flyers will make it another 33 years without the help of our government.