Deroy Murdock: What if Congress had passed the Affordable Air Act instead?
December 29. 2013 8:33PM
Once upon a time, a man named Obama fretted that 10 percent of U.S. citizens never had ridden an airplane, as the New America Foundation reported. "Let me be clear," Obama said. "We can do better."
Rather than let entrepreneurs and philanthropists help people take their first flights, Obama and a Democrat Congress concocted the Affordable Air Act. Big government, they reckoned, must race to the rescue. Instead of assisting those who never had flown, Obama and company overturned the entire aviation industry — for airlines and passengers alike.
Republicans yelled. The flying public rebelled. But Democrats prevailed. ObamaAir was signed into law.
Kayak.com, Priceline.com, and other companies already served passengers efficiently. But Obama insisted that his signature program construct its own website. So, Obama spent three years and $677 million on Airfare.gov.
It flopped spectacularly.
Meanwhile, in what PolitiFact.com called its "Lie of the Year," Obama promised Americans 37 times: "If you like your plane, you can keep your plane. Period." Nonetheless, Obama infantilized passengers who were content in coach. They naïvely bought "substandard" seats, Obama snarled, from "bad apple" airlines.
ObamaAir's new "Essential Travel Benefits" forced satisfied coach passengers to purchase business-class tickets, complete with in-flight champagne, steak dinners, and noise-cancellation headsets — whether they wanted them or not. These new mandates hiked typical ticket costs by 41 percent, by one estimate. These pricier tickets are "a better deal," Obama reassured suddenly fleeced coach passengers.
Before and after Democrats enacted ObamaAir, Obama repeatedly said, "If you like your destination, you can keep your destination." This oft-stated lie notwithstanding, millions of Americans soon discovered that they no longer could visit their favorite destinations if their airlines had dropped them from their networks. People who had journeyed to Portland, Palm Beach, and other places they liked now were uncertain if they ever would see them again.
Then, with no legal authority to do so, Obama decreed that Americans who received their plane tickets through their employers would be exempt from ObamaAir until after the November 2014 election. However, some 5.9 million Americans who booked flights individually learned that their reservations were null and void. Their airline access was cancelled, and they suddenly had to make new arrangements.
Some of these ObamaAir victims returned to Airfare.gov. After a much ballyhooed two-month-long "tech surge," Airfare.gov's "user experience" appeared less frustrating. However, while passengers could make reservations, the website's "back end" still backfired. Indeed, the cash-register function had yet to be built. So, despite remaining dangerously vulnerable to identity thieves, passengers scheduled flights on Airfare.gov. The airlines often were the last to find out; the wobbly website frequently failed to transmit booking information that passengers had entered.
Fearing total chaos once ObamaAir fully took flight on January 1, Obama told the airlines to honor these passengers' reservations as early as New Year's Day, even if they lacked payment. Travelers could fly as soon as January 1 and then pay retroactively, perhaps as late as January 31. What if passengers decided to jet off to Amsterdam or Hong Kong in early January and then "forget" to pay for their tickets later that month? Luckily, Obama's magic wand would keep them honest.
Obama on December 12 also told the airlines to keep serving destinations in January that were set to exit their networks. This would benefit passengers whose reservations never emerged from the ObamaAir website.
Finally, since Airfare.gov could not tell carriers how many passengers to expect on which flights and at what price, Obama decided to send the airlines taxpayer dollars based on their estimates of federal subsidies tied to their lower-income passengers. Delta, United, and other airlines eventually would reconcile their projections with actual passenger lists. They then would refund overpayments to Washington or ask for federal underpayments to be made whole. This was expected to go smoothly — free of lawyers and litigation.
If this story sounds outlandish, don't worry. It's just a fairy tale.
Deroy Murdock is a New York-based Fox News contributor and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.