The government can look awfully cool when it does what the Department of Transportation did last week in finalizing new rules that require airlines to disclose hidden fees and refund bag fees if they lose travelers' luggage. Whether it be gas prices, road traffic, or air-travel headaches, policymakers always look good when they're trying to take care of customers.
The trouble is that customers' problems are just the top layer of a vast underlying system of public and private structures -- some heavily regulated, some very expensive -- that also need attention. Sometimes the impact on customers isn't so obvious or direct. Several infrastructure and transportation groups have pointed to worsening road traffic as a reason for more investment in roads and highways, but the time lag between cause and effect weakens the good-for-customers argument.
Customers aren't always served as cleanly as they might expect. Even the relatively clear rules on airline disclosures left some questions unanswered; the DOT will separately consider whether all ancillary fees must be stated at the point of sale. The government itself could be causing the problem. The Air Transport Association made sure to note that government taxes and fees can account for 20 percent of a ticket price.
What can customers expect from the government in making their travel easier? Will DOT's new airline rules make a difference for passengers? How much of customer service really is rooted in businesses' competition with one another, rather than government intervention? What are the possible land-based corollaries to the airline customer-service rules? Is it possible for the regulations to go too far?