Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 21, 2014

Posts in "Travel"

December 15, 2014

Senate Rebuffs Cruz Critique of Travel Promotion

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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In his last-ditch effort to stop the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill on Friday night, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, fired a glancing shot at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and at his support for Brand USA, a public-private partnership Congress created in 2010 to persuade foreign tourists to visit the United States.

Cruz ended up on the short end of a 56-to-40 Senate vote to pass the omnibus which includes a provision reauthorizing Brand USA.

The travel promotion agency is funded through a $10 fee added to the application charge paid by visitors to the United States from the 38 countries in the Visa Waiver Program. The 38 include most of the western European countries as well as a few others such as Japan and Australia.

Federal backing for Brand USA, limited to $100 million a year, is matched by U.S. travel and tourism companies and state and local visitor agencies.

In a Senate floor speech Friday night, Cruz called Brand USA “another bit of corporate welfare,” adding that it “is one of the current majority leader’s pet projects because it helps promote casinos in his home state. Last I checked, casinos were very profitable endeavors that didn’t need the taxpayers helping them out, didn’t need the Congress serving your hard-earned dollars and handing it out to promote casinos.”

But Jonathan Grella, senior vice president of public affairs at the U.S. Travel Association, said Brand USA is about far more than luring foreigners to Las Vegas.

He said many businesses in Texas who benefit from foreign tourism “would vehemently disagree with the senator, as would the main sponsors of the [Brand USA authorization] measure who hail from Minnesota, Missouri, Vermont, and Florida,” referring to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla.

“I think that says everything about how broad the benefits from Brand USA go,” Grella said. “The genesis of the focus on Vegas in particular is born out of the majority leader’s support. And anything that the majority leader supports, in the view of others, must be a sop to his home state, which is obviously not accurate.”

He added, “This program helps create jobs in all 50 states and that’s why it had such broad bipartisan support…. Many of the most active supporters are from smaller destinations who could use the help” in attracting foreign visitors.

Prior to the 2010 law which created Brand USA, Grella said, the United States was the only major developed country that did not have tourism marketing program.

December 12, 2014

Amid Airline Resurgence, A Reminder Of Losses

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American Airlines planes parked at gates in the Miami International Airport (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

For readers with short memories, yes, sometimes airlines do file for bankruptcy.

It used to happen quite often, but it may seem a remote possibility at a time when airline are reaping lush profits.

The International Air Transport Association announced this week that airlines are expected to post a collective global net profit of nearly $20 billion this year and $25.0 billion in 2015.

Full story

December 9, 2014

Korean Air Executive Resigns In Nut Incident

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Korean Air plane sits on the tarmac at Gimpo airport in Seoul on Dec. 9, 2014.(Photo: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

Korean Air Lines executive vice president Cho Hyun-ah resigned Tuesday amid a furor over delaying the departure of a flight from Kennedy Airport in New York after ordering the plane back to the gate and telling a senior crew member to get off.

Cho, the eldest daughter of company chairman Cho Yang-ho, was seated in first class and was angered that a flight attendant and a senior crew member did not know the correct procedure for serving macadamia nuts, according to the Associated Press and other news reports.

Korean Air apologized to its customers for the inconvenience of the plane returning to the gate which delayed the departure by about 20 minutes.

The Financial Times reported that some South Koreans viewed the incident as a case study in the “undue influence” that the founding family members of Korean chaebols often wield over the management of the business conglomerates.

Cho Hyun-ah is the granddaughter of Korean Air Lines founder Choong Hoon Cho, who was the head of the Hanjin Group, which includes Hanjin Shipping, the world’s eighth largest shipping company.

Study: Data, Not Politics, Must Drive Infrastructure

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Interstate 95 in Pennsylvania (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

State and regional transportation planners should start asking “what’s the return on investment?” to make sure that each infrastructure dollar is being well spent, says Emil Frankel, a top Transportation Department official in the Bush administration and the author of a study released Tuesday by American Action Forum, a center-right think tank, and the Eno Center for Transportation on using economic analysis to select transportation projects.

“In a time of scarce resources, we need better, more analytically driven decision making about how to use these resources more effectively and productively,” Frankel said in an interview Monday.

Full story

December 8, 2014

Friday Q & A: Charlie Leocha of Travelers United, Part Two

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Passengers at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, DC, on Thanksgiving Eve. (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Here is the second part of our conversation with travel consumer advocate Charlie Leocha of Travelers United.

Didn’t the House pass a bill in the last several months on disclosure of ancillary fees?

The House passed a bill called the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, and the Transparent Airfares Act is anything but transparent. It’s an example of Congress operating in the most anti-consumer way possible.

Full story

December 5, 2014

Friday Q & A: Charlie Leocha of Travelers United, Part One

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A Southwest Airlines jet lands at LAX on Thanksgiving eve in Los Angeles. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Charlie Leocha is chairman and founder of Travelers United, a non-profit group that argues that travelers should get better treatment from airlines, rental car companies, and other travel businesses.

We spoke to him this week about his group’s focus on ancillary fees and other matters.

Can you give us your views on opaqueness and disclosure of fees that airlines charge?

In 2008 the airlines started to unbundle their airfares and as they were unbundling their airfares and breaking out their baggage fees and they kept adding fees, it kept making it more and more difficult for consumers to know what the full price of travel was going to be.

The old days of being able to go on to Expedia or other websites and compare prices across all airlines was gone.

So that got me to work together with a coalition of other organizations in Washington like the American Society of Travel Agents, a number of the online travel agencies such as Expedia, the Business Travel Coalition, and we all realized we were all trying to get the same thing: disclosure of ancillary fees.

Has Congress fixed that problem?

No, that problem is still not fixed.

We had a partial fix to it from DOT with a rulemaking [in 2011] in which the airlines were required to have one page, linked from their home page, with all the ancillary fees on it.

However, that fix allows airlines to put in ancillary fees in a pricing range, without making it flight-specific and passenger-specific.

In the meantime, the airlines have started to have all sorts of exceptions to their rules.

In other words, there’s a baggage charge for most of the airlines of $25 for the first bag.

However, if you use a certain credit card, you don’t have to pay that; if you are a certain elite level of frequent flyer, you don’t have to pay that; if you’re know somebody and you’re on the same passenger name record or the same reservation record as someone who has these exemptions, those exemptions pass along to the other people on that record.

So the airlines have turned what used to be a relatively simple process of comparing prices across airlines into an incredibly complex situation ….

There is a rulemaking [on ancillary fees] right now … being put together by the Department of Transportation and it will then go to the Office of Management and Budget and then back to the Department of Transportation and be released.

December 3, 2014

Nominee Admits NHTSA Overmatched

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Mark Rosekind, nominee to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

President Obama’s nominee to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agreed with senators at his confirmation hearing Wednesday that the agency was over-matched in its efforts to detect and crack down on automobile safety defects.

Three times during the hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Mark Rosekind cited the figure that NHTSA had only nine staff people to contend with an avalanche of 75,000 consumer complaints a year.

Full story

Eno Report: Consider Scrapping Trust Fund

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Chicago highway traffic (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Why not scrap the beleaguered Highway Trust Fund and the concept of dedicated user fees (gasoline taxes) going into it?

Instead, why not rely entirely on general tax revenues to pay for highways and mass transit?

That’s one possibility raised by a report issued Wednesday by the Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington think tank.

Full story

December 2, 2014

With Stimulus Visible, Rail Searches For New Funds

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President Obama speaks to the Recovery Act Implementation Conference on March 12, 2009 in Washington. (Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images)

Apart from the Affordable Care Act – whose fate has yet to be determined by the Supreme Court – and judicial appointments, perhaps the most durable and visible accomplishment of President Obama’s two terms will be long-lasting steel structures like the $154 million Niantic River Bridge project along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Connecticut.

It was finished in 2013 with $77 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding and $77 million in Amtrak capital funds. It replaced a bridge built in 1907.

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November 25, 2014

U.S., EU Officials Meet On Norwegian Air Controversy

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A Norwegian Air Shuttle Boeing 737 (Photo: Aas Erlend/AFP/Getty Images)

Transportation Department and State Department officials met Tuesday with representatives of the European Union to discuss why the Transportation Department hasn’t yet decided on an application for a foreign air carrier permit from Norwegian Air International (NAI), the Ireland-based affiliate of the budget airline Norwegian Air Shuttle.

Norwegian Air Shuttle CEO Bjorn Kjos said in a speech in Washington last week that granting the permit was “long overdue.” His company says that by not granting the permit the United States is not honoring its obligations under a EU-U.S Open Skies Agreement.

Full story

November 24, 2014

Friday Q & A: Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Part Two

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Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., in his district in Mount Vernon, Wash. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call via Getty Images)

Here’s the second half of our interview with Rep. Rick Larsen, D- Wash., who is the senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee.

You said at Tuesday’s hearing on FAA reauthorization, “If we’re going to ‘go big’ in this bill… we must do so methodically, with a clear statement of the problem we are trying to solve.” So what is the problem you’re trying to solve?

The problem the aviation subcommittee will try to solve is not one problem. For NATCA it’s funding stability. For Airlines for America, representing the airlines, it’s the full implementation of NextGen so that they can start seeing the benefits to them. Those are two very different problems but some are suggesting that by doing a broader air traffic control reform Congress can solve these individual problems. I’m not certain about that.

And based on the hearing that we had, I continue to conclude that there’s no consensus among stakeholders on a broader air traffic control reform, because they did not all come up with the same answer to how you fix these problems.

As far as FAA funding certainty, having those of us who fly pay a dedicated user fee, as part of the cost of the airplane ticket, would be one way to provide that.

You’re already paying right now in the form of a passenger facility charge to help with funding for airports.

With regard to the use of the national airspace, yes, the people who fly benefit from that.

But I think we need to look at the national airspace like the national highway system in that everybody benefits from having it.

So it does make sense to have some general Treasury funding as part of that funding picture  for the national airspace.

I do not see how we move to a user fee system in the United States because of the resistance from some groups.

And the idea that we have to move to a user fee system says that Congress is failing at funding aviation in this country. We didn’t use to have these funding problems. We have the funding problems now because of sequestration and because of government shutdowns.

As a country, we just need to decide if we want to have a national airspace, or if we want to partition it off to those who are most willing to spend the most to use it.

One non-FAA question: about the oil train issue. The last number that BNSF filed with the state was that 8 to 12 Bakken oil trains a week go through your district.

Whatever one might say about pipelines being built, it looks like this oil-by-rail traffic will continue, since you have five refineries in your state that are using this oil from North Dakota.

Are you confident that what the Obama administration is doing and the PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) rule that’s is in the works are making it as safe as possible to move oil by rail?

I don’t see the day right now where a pipeline is going to be built from North Dakota into Washington state to service the refineries and deliver Bakken oil.

Mile for mile, I think pipelines are safer, but moving things by rail is safe too….

I think that because of the increase of Bakken oil being delivered by rail, it makes perfect sense to move forward on a strong safety rule that deals with the tank car design, the frequency of rail line inspections, notification to first responders and to the communities, as well as several other issues.

I think the administration’s approach on this is the right approach; I’d like to see them move faster on it…

I think the resistance from some in the industry to push back against tougher tank car design is wrong-headed. We need tougher tank cars, there’s no argument otherwise.

[Editor's Note: Click here for Part One of the interview.]

The Week Ahead: OPEC, Oil, Shipping, Shopping

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Workers place boxes on a conveyor belt at the FedEx facility at the Oakland International Airport. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This week’s most significant transportation event won’t take place in Washington, or in the United States at all, but in Vienna where representatives of the OPEC oil cartel will be meeting on Thanksgiving Day.

The 12-member cartel is under stress from lower oil prices, with the price of benchmark Brent crude having fallen by 30 percent since June.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that U.S. crude production, driven in large part by advances in hydraulic fracturing, will increase from an average of 7.5 million barrels a day last year to 9.4 million barrels a day in 2015.

Full story

November 21, 2014

A Glance Back at Our Week: Congestion, Oil By Rail, And A Streetcar Nixed

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Container ships at the Maersk terminal in the Port of Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

This week we asked whether the cancellation of a planned streetcar line in the Washington, D.C. suburbs is perhaps a turning point for trendy transportation/urban development projects.

We heard in person from Bjorn Kjos, the head of Norwegian Air Shuttle who has set up an Ireland-based subsidiary to offer low-priced transatlantic service, a potential threat to legacy U.S. airlines such as United and Delta. Kjos is being stymied by Obama administration regulators.

Full story

Friday Q & A: Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Part One

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Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call via Getty Images)

First elected to the House in 2000, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., is the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee. He’s playing a lead role on the bill that the House is poised to take up next year to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and perhaps make basic changes in how the nation’s airspace is managed.

Larsen also represents a district that includes Boeing’s giant aircraft manufacturing plant in Everett, Wash.

Here are excerpts from our conversation Thursday.

Is it likely that Congress can pass both a long-term surface transportation bill and a FAA reauthorization bill next year? That’s an awful lot in one year.

I can only speak for the House of Representatives and I believe we’re going to give it the old college try.

Full story

November 20, 2014

Head Of Low-Fare Carrier Woos Americans

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CEO of Norwegian Air Shuttle, Bjorn Kjos (Photo: Junge Heiko/AFP/Getty Images)

Bjorn Kjos, chief executive officer of Norwegian Air Shuttle, parent company of a low-fare carrier that wants Department of Transportation permission to provide more flights between Europe and the United States, made his case to airline industry leaders at a speech in Washington Thursday.

Kjos said he’d be a job creator for Americans by bringing European and Asian tourists to American cities, hotels, and tourist sites.

And he said “if I fly twice as many people into the U.S., I need twice as many cabin attendants, I need twice as many pilots.”

Full story

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