Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio November
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
NEGOTIATING PASSENGER RIGHTS
Planners can ask for more than just a good fare when dealing
After a miserable six months of delayed
flights, no timely information, plenty of misinformation and some
notable incidents of air rage, airlines are getting about as much
respect as Rodney Dangerfield.
Politicians are trying to boost their prestige by taking on the
airlines. The airlines, in turn, are taking on the Federal Aviation
Administration as well as flight controllers. And everyone is
blaming someone else for the problems travelers face every day.
The current status of passenger rights could remain up in the
air for some time to come. The Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act
of 1999, otherwise known as H.R. 700, introduced on Feb. 10, 1999,
probably will be working its way through channels well into the new
millennium. Should any part of this bill be enacted, it could
impose liability on air carriers for violating passenger rights and
could define the manner of restitution.
Adding to the political confusion are at least six other bills
in the House, including H.R. 752, which aims to establish a
national policy of fair treatment for airline passengers, and H.R.
780, designed to establish consumer protections for airline
passengers. Are we having fun yet? Pricing policies, the disclosure
of the percentage of seats available for frequent-flyer awards and
other similar issues all will be volleyed among the various
political factions in the months to come.
What is negotiated at the federal level ultimately will affect
meeting planning. While we await the first-ever Airline Passenger
Bill of Rights, we can take advantage of the negotiating power that
exists today from the standpoint that airlines do not like empty
seats and will continue to negotiate not only for individual
loyalty through frequent flyer bonuses but also for group loyalty
by courting meeting planners.
Cutting deals with airlines starts with the city pairs involved,
meaning the departure and destination points. Airlines will be more
flexible depending on several factors, including their yield
management concerns and whether attendees will be flying into a
Yield management refers to the airline's attempts to maximize
revenue on a particular flight. The equation is simple economics:
The more full the airplane, the more revenue for the carrier.
Sophisticated computer programs churn out historical data on
routes, information on pickup, statistics on the time of the day
the flights in question run, weather forecasts and more. All these
factors are mixed together to determine possible fares.
Getting a good deal for a group might be difficult, but it can
be done. Along the way, planners should be wary of free-ticket
offers; the price could be too costly. If you are using "free"
tickets, be sure that you are able to make a firm reservation and
that you cannot be bumped if a fare-paying customer wants your
seat. Beyond negotiating fares, here are some other items you can
request for attendees.Last-seat availability. In other words, if
there is a seat open, regardless of its current yield management
rate, you get it at your fare.Access to VIP lounges. This can be important
for international destinations or a series of stopovers.Ratio of paid seats to complimentary seats and
other perksAir cargo allowancesMarketing help for the event from the
Remember, from the standpoint of the airlines, giving away seats
and discounting rates is not necessarily good business. From the
standpoint of the passengers, receiving the most services for the
most competitive price remains the optimal goal.
Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is
a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of
Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and
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