Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

Recently, you might have imagined that airlines are at least trying to please their customers.

Once in a while, that is.

Behind the scenes, though, they're maneuvering to make things much worse.

We're in an era of ridding ourselves of regulations, after all.

So the Department of Transportation has asked airlines: "Hey, any rules you might want to get rid of, now's the time to ask."

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the airlines haven't delayed in making suggestions.

They'd like, for example, to get rid of the 24-hour grace period during which you can get a full refund on your ticket. It's such a nuisance for them, you see.

If you change your mind within, say, five minutes, the idea is that you'd have to pay, guess what, a change fee.

Oh, and having to honor mistake fares? Airlines would prefer not to have to. 

There's more.

The requirement that they show the full price of a ticket when people are looking for flights? Let's get rid of that.

And the tarmac delay rule -- the one that makes airlines pay compensation if passengers are stranded for a very long time. Ach, that's so last century, isn't it?

As is, it seems, publishing on-time percentages and cancellation rates of flights.

The airlines, says the Journal, would even like to buy priority in travel agency search results, so that their offers dominate whole pages.

But perhaps the most outrageous request of all this, says the Journal: the airlines now want to charge for wheelchair services.

Exhausted yet? The airlines aren't. United Airlines actually added 50 pages of its own suggestions.

I asked United and American for their thoughts.

American referred me to industry group Airlines for America -- which represents United, American JetBlue and many others.

It offered me these words: "Ushering in a new era of smarter regulation is a win for consumers and represents a much-welcomed shift from a decade's long Washington practice of micromanagement and regulatory interference in the market. Right now fares are historically low, competition is robust and customers are benefiting from more choices and better service when they fly - which is exactly why we need smart reforms that will continue to unlock the airline industry's potential to expand jobs and improve the customer experience, while maintaining the high level of safety we have today."

Smarter regulation? Charging for wheelchairs? Despite the Journal's report, Airlines for America insists that this isn't what its airlines are seeking.

"Charging for this service is not what we're requesting and is not in our filing. We would like DOT to clarify the term 'prompt' wheelchair service in its regulations to recognize wheelchair service occurs in a dynamic environment. Airlines require flexibility to respond to the needs of their passengers in an efficient and timely manner."

Some might wonder what sort of flexibility the airlines are seeking. A life-addled mind might worry that this could include charging for certain, -- say, prompt -- wheelchair services. 

Airline for America insists, however: "Airlines are committed to providing the best service to their passengers who require wheelchair service, however the term 'prompt' is ambiguous. DOT should give strong consideration to the good faith attempts that airline personnel make to provide assistance in a timely manner to their customers, taking into consideration among other things the airport, the number of wheelchair requests at any given time and the time that the request was made."

I pause for your extreme ululative concern.

Moreover, Airlines for America insists that it doesn't seek travel agency search result domination, but rather: "We are proposing a common sense modification to 14 C.F.R. Part 256 so that it is not applied broadly to include an airline's own website or airline alliance website. A reasonable consumer expects a company's own website to promote its products over those of others." (Part 256 is all about making sure that customers know when the displaying of fares is biased.)

But let's talk about reasonable consumers.

A reasonable consumer would also expect airlines to be reasonable.

This doesn't seem to happen as often as it might, as airlines nickel-and-dime, obfuscate and seek to create charges for everything that was once deemed standard. 

Oh, and now seek to even change such basics as the 24-hour rule.

Some might choose to observe, too, when looking at these proposals, that Airlines for America could be a misnomer. 

Airlines for Airlines might have a better ring to it. How do passengers benefit from any of this?

The airlines surely know that this is their best opportunity to wade in and they're trying to take full advantage. Which doesn't mean they'll get what they want. But goodness, doesn't it show a certain mindset?

Meanwhile, the DOT isn't being swift in implementing regulations such as forcing airlines to seat families together -- an issue that's currently under investigation in the UK

Of course, there's no way of knowing how the government agency will react.

Airlines aren't too keen on outrage from consumer groups right now.

But there may be a fight here. And when there's one of those, airline passengers don't often win.

Published on: Feb 8, 2018