Airlines spend millions on lobbying as summer travel takes off - OpenSecrets News
Airplanes from Delta and American Airlines populate the taxiway at Laguardia Airport on Nov. 10, 2022 in New York City, N.Y. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With the summer travel season in full swing, AAA projected a record 4 million travelers flying over the July 4th holiday — so are airline lobbying efforts, as the industry continues to pour millions of dollars into federal lobbying.

Skyrocketing airline fares don’t seem to be slowing the travel season down despite travelers’ frustrations — the consumer price index for airline tickets increased by 25% over the past year. And while, as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pointed out on Twitter, flight cancellation rates were down over the July 4th holiday, issues caused by severe weather and airline staffing shortages still left thousands stranded. 

Airline industry lobbying has remained fairly consistent over the past several years. In 2022, groups lobbying on behalf of the airline industry spent nearly $26.4 million on lobbying efforts. This was on par with lobbying expenditures from previous years, which have hovered within the range of $24 million to $30 million since 2012. 

Airline groups have continued to pour millions of dollars into lobbying efforts this year, spending nearly $7.2 million during 2023’s first lobbying quarter. This is slightly more than the $7 million that was spent during 2022’s first lobbying quarter.

The biggest airline industry lobbying spenders of 2022 included several groups affiliated with major airlines. The top lobbying spender was Airlines for America, a trade association group that represents several major North American airlines including American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, among others. Airlines for America spent nearly $5.4 million dollars on lobbying in 2022 — focusing on bills such as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act and the Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act

The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, which passed went into effect in April, requires employers to provide employees who need to express breastmilk at work with access to clean and private spaces to do so. The bill provides some exemptions for air carriers during flights. 

The Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act sought to require transporation carriers, such as airlines, to establish formal policies regarding sexual asssault and harassment as well as create civil penalties for sexually assaulting or threatening to sexual assault transportation employees. It died in the Senate. 

So far in 2023, Airlines for America has spent nearly $1.5 million, slightly more than the amount spent during 2022’s first quarter.

Other top lobbying spenders are affiliated with specific major airlines. American Airlines Group, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines Holdings and Alaska Air Group also all spent millions on lobbying efforts in 2022 and targeting  similar bills as Airlines for America. 

Major airline groups spent nearly $5.5 million on federal lobbying during the first quarter of this year, showing that spending does not seem to be slowing down in 2023. 

Lobbying efforts have been largely focused on a handful of bills and issues. Several groups and companies have been actively lobbying against the Sunshine Protection Act of 2023, a bill that would make daylight savings time a permanent standard time. A spokesperson from Airlines for America claimed that changes to standard time would cause disruption to airline schedules. 

Other lobbying efforts have included bills such as the Promoting Women in Aviation Act,  which seeks to establish a Women in Aviation Advisory Committee within the Department of Transportation, and the Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act of 2023, which would require air carriers to offer full cash refunds for tickets if a flight is canceled or significantly delayed or if a passenger cancels at least 48 hours before their scheduled departure. 

Groups affiliated with budget airlines also had a lobbying presence during 2022. JetBlue Airways was the top spender of groups lobbying on behalf of low-cost airlines in 2022, spending $2.1 million and outspending two groups affiliated with major airlines: Alaska Air Group and Hawaiian Holdings

Some of JetBlue Airways’ lobbying efforts have aligned with those of major airline lobbyists, such as their lobbying on the Inflation Reduction Act. But, there have also been some unique lobbying efforts on the airline’s behalf. JetBlue reported lobbying on the Fair and Open Skies Act, a bill that would have limited foreign air carriers’ access to the U.S. market by placing limits on when the Department of Transportation can issue a foreign air carrier permit. Fellow budget airline Southwest Airlines, lobbied on this bill as well. Delta is the only major airline that lobbied on that bill, which did not move past introduction.  It was recently reintroduced in the House.

So far this year, JetBlue Airways remains the top spender among budget airline groups, spending $660,000 in the year’s first lobbying quarter — $240,000 more than it  spent during the first quarter last year.

Only one other budget airline broke the million-dollar barrier in 2022 lobbying expenses, with Southwest Airlines spending $1.1 million on lobbying. While these two budget airline groups spent more than $1 million on lobbying expenses, the total lobbying spending of budget airline groups is a fraction of the total spending of major airline groups — spending nearly $17 million less.

Altogether, budget airlines have spent nearly $1.1 million on lobbying so far this year — also significantly less than spending by major airline affiliated groups. While none of the budget airline groups have reported lobbying on any specific bills in 2023, they have reported lobbying on issues such as the merger of JetBlue and Spirit Airlines, FAA reauthorization and pilot shortages

Regional and international airlines have a lobbying presence as well, though each spent significantly less than both major and budget airline-affiliated groups — spending a total of $1.2 million and $920,000 respectively in 2022. The top spender on behalf of regional airlines in 2022 was Regional Airline Association, a business association of 17 member regional airlines, which spent $560,000 on lobbying. Leading the pack for international airline lobbying was Korean Air, the flag carrier of South Korea, which spent $400,000 in 2022. These two groups remain the top lobbiers among regional and international airlines so far in 2023 as well.

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