Cronies: More Details on the House Transportation Committee Chairman’s Inappropriate Relationship With the Airline Industry

Earlier in the month it was revealed that the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee is dating a top lobbyist from the airline industry. His Chief of Staff is married to another top airline industry lobbyist. And he hired an airline industry lobbyist to run the Transportation Committee.

Supposedly, though, Congressman Bill Shuster doesn’t let his girlfriend lobby him (cough).

The Transparent Airfares Act that Shuster Promotes for Industry

Politico walks through the timeline of the Transparent Airfares Act which passed the House and would have allowed airlines to not show fully costed airfares.

I do think it’s strange that we treat airfares differently than pretty much anything else (virtually no products have to have tax-inclusive prices displayed, hotels can add mandatory resort fees).

This is more for historic reasons than anything else. Most products are governed by a mixture of state regulation, common law enforced through the courts, and the Federal Trade Commission.

In contrast the Airline Deregulation Act pre-empts state regulation, taking state laws and state courts mostly out of the process, and grants broad powers to the Department of Transportation — largely as a means of minimizing fears over what deregulation would have meant.

This special DOT regulatory power winds up in mandated all-in pricing, which is good (although they’ve proposed going way too far mandating one-size fits all fee disclosure as well).

Timeline of Shuster’s Relationship and Industry’s Legislation

The Transparent Airfares Act was re-introduced and pushed through the Committee in minutes and the House without a standalone vote in the spring of 2014.

Shuster only officially acknowledged his relationship to the industry knowledge contemporaneously with the official filing for his divorce in summer.

Up until that time she was the chief lobbyist for the Transparent Airfares Act.

Silence on whether they were actually already dating before putting it in writing while the Act was sailing through the House.

At the same time Rebecca Shuster was filing divorce papers, Bill Shuster filed a document with his office stating that he was dating Rubino and that she would not lobby him or his staff.
It is unclear when the relationship between Shuster and Rubino actually began. The two have long been close.

Shuster is still pushing for the bill. And his girlfriend is still its primary lobbyist, just lobbying all of the committee members that Shuster chairs. She doesn’t need to lobby him.

A4A was unsuccessful in getting the measure through the Senate, and it’s now seeking Shuster’s help again. The trade association is trying to wedge the legislation into a massive overhaul of the Federal Aviation Administration pending before the transportation panel. Shuster is crafting that bill, and Rubino’s group has a major stake in it.

Shuster’s talking points on the bill and graphics he uses, as noted by Politico are nearly identical to those used by Airlines 4 America.

What Should Happen to Shuster?

I actually don’t think it much matters that he’s dating this woman. It’s not as though he’d take a Solomonic approach to legislation but for his heart or his loins. He’s, essentially, the Congressman from Delta, American, and United.. to begin with.

And he doesn’t need to be officially ‘dating’ a lobbyist, Shuster is one of half a dozen congressman that John Boehner had to speak to about “partying with female lobbyists” back in 2010. Homeboy likes the lobbyists

Nonetheless, House (lack of) rules notwithstanding, this represents a real conflict of interest. And any reasonable rule would have his step down as Chair of the House Transportation Committee to the extent he is in a relationship with one of the industry’s chief lobbyists.

(HT: David M.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gas is also sold with all taxes included. As should be hotel rooms, rental cars, cell phone plans, and anything else where the taxes are not easily predictable. If the only tax on a product or service is a flat percentage sales tax, then it makes sense to not include it. But when the taxes/surcharges are different for each and every airfare, it’s absurd and misleading not to include them.

  2. With regard to taxes I don’t think it’s black and white with airfares. For most products and services, there is a simple sales tax percentage that is applied so it’s relatively easy to do a back of the napkin calculation on how much you’d pay. However with airfares as we all know, there are all sorts of other surcharges and fees that get added on–some that are added by governmental agencies and others (like YQ/YR) that are added by the airlines that they’d like you to think are. A quick search of NYC-LON comes back with:

    Fare 1: Carrier US HEE NYC to LON (rules)
    Passenger type ADT, round trip fare, booking code H
    Covers JFK-LHR (Economy) $885.00
    Fare 2: Carrier US HEE LON to NYC (rules)
    Passenger type ADT, round trip fare, booking code H
    Covers LHR-JFK (Economy) $885.00
    US YR surcharge (YR) $458.00
    US International Departure Tax (US) $17.70
    US September 11th Security Fee (AY) $5.60
    US Passenger Facility Charge (XF) $4.50
    USDA APHIS Fee (XA) $5.00
    US Immigration Fee (XY) $7.00
    US Customs Fee (YC) $5.50
    United Kingdom Air Passengers Duty (GB) $106.70
    United Kingdom Passenger Service Charge (UB) $63.20
    US International Arrival Tax (US) $17.70
    Subtotal per passenger$2,460.90
    Number of passengers x1
    Subtotal For 1 adult $2,460.90

    So the base fare is $1,770 and the taxes are $690.90. Oh wait but the YR surcharge is actually not a tax, but rather a carrier surcharge, so the base fare is actually $2,228 then $63 in US taxes and fees and $169.90 in UK taxes and fees for a total tax of $232.90. This could vary greatly depending on origin/destination airports, number of connections, etc. It’s not hard to find situations where the taxes and fees can be as much or more than the base fare.

    I think that at the end of the day, most average consumers just want to know how much they will end up shelling out for their ticket, and if they can’t quickly look at the base fare and calculate a rough approximation of the all-in price, then the all-in price should be disclosed in the interest of transparency. Yes, we treat airfares differently than pretty much anything else but nothing else I can think of has this complicated of a fee structure when it comes to taxes and fees.

    Oh and on the subject of hotel resort fees, that is the biggest scam going. If you can’t opt out of the charge then it should be clearly disclosed at the time of booking at part of the total rate. I’m not a huge fan of superfluous regulation, but this is one that I feel needs to enacted as it’s ripe for abuse by lodging industry (and of course we’ve seen egregious mandatory fees in many cases already that were not clearly disclosed).

  3. Gary, thanks for keeping up with this. And, really, this is likely only the tip of the incestuous dealing. Wish an investigative journalist would grab hold. The Politici article didn’t go deep, was focused on pictures. There is so much more to this.

  4. Jonathon,

    All those taxes and fees are from Obama and his liars. Remember, it’s to pay down the national debt according to that socialist regime, not for what they are “intended” for. War on 1812 tax still to return.

    All those UK taxes came from UK’s Labour Party…..during John Major (Tory), airfare US-UK was $250.00 all in. Now who would want Ed Miliband that can’t eat bacon sandwiches properly to get in charge of those taxes his party installed at $2250.00 + taxes?

  5. @ED
    seek help quickly……you suffer from a severe mental disorder (often confused as basically identical to racismitis)

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