An open letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

From early indications, it looks like it will be difficult to get anything through Congress in the next two years. With that in mind, perhaps the most effective routes to change will be through appointed officials like Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.  It is with this in mind that I wrote the following letter and sent it to the Secretary for his consideration.

Dear Secretary Buttigieg:

The recent meltdown by Southwest Airlines highlights what I and many, many others already know: The U.S. airline industry is in drastic need of an overhaul.

I’m a frequent traveler who has witnessed the steady deterioration of America’s airlines. Certainly, the consolidation to the point where we have only THREE major carriers isn’t helping, but it began long ago. The abolition of the CAB in 1978 may have opened opportunities for improvements but it also allowed carriers to be opportunistic, which has led to where we are today: a race to the bottom.

As the head of Southwest’s Pilot’s Union said, the airline founded by Herb Kelleher - who put people first - has been taken over by bean counters who are beholden only to the bottom line and their stockholders. Passengers? We’re simply seen as the cash cows who pay to keep the operation running.

Air travel has become a commodity, like water, gas and electricity so it should be regulated as such. I propose the following changes to return the airlines to what they should be doing: serving the public.

Airlines should be required to:
  • Sell no more seats than they have available on any given flight. No more over-selling! Unused or unclaimed seats could be filled on a stand-by basis.
  • Include at least one checked bag with each fare purchased. This would ease the demand for overhead bin space, and make boarding and deplaning faster as fewer people compete for overhead bin space. That would also reduce stress which can lead to air rage, would contribute to greater transparency and make comparison shopping easier. President Obama’s National Economic Council recommended removing nickel-and-dime charges and hidden fees in its report “The Competition Initiative and Hidden Fees” issued in December 2016.
  • Provide standard economy seats no less than 18.5” wide, with pitch of no less than 34”.
  • “Premium economy” products should be sold as a separate fare class, not on a “space-available upgrade” basis.
  • If the airline offers reserved seating, advanced seat selection should be offered at no charge to the passenger.
Airlines could still be allowed to charge extra for:
  • A seat in an exit aisle or bulkhead row.
  • Early boarding
  • Food and/or alcoholic beverages (water, coffee and soft drinks should be complimentary)
To date, the airlines and their trade association have been very successful at cowing the FAA and convincing it to accept red herrings about facets of their operations. I am writing directly to you in the hope that you and your folks will be able to see through their smokescreens and address these very real issues in a meaningful way.

Carl Dombek

Visit my main page at for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photo by Carl Dombek
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