President Biden made headlines for his latest gaffe, suggesting that airlines that charge extra for additional legroom are racist. But text outside of context is simply a pretext for misunderstanding. I’m going to give the President the benefit of the doubt here.
Biden Gaffe Suggesting Airline Legroom Upcharges Are Racist Must Be Put In Context
I’ve read numerous headlines suggesting President Biden called extra-legroom fees racist. But while the President has never been articulate, I think it is important to look at his speech and these specific words in context.
On Wednesday, Biden outlined his administration’s plan to “protect American consumers from junk fees.” He spent the initial part of his speech savaging bank fees, including bounced check and overdraft fees which Biden suggested unfairly target unsuspecting consumers.
Then he pivoted to other hidden fees, including concert ticketing fees and resort fees. These will become illegal, he announced.
Next, Biden pivoted to airline fees.
“Last summer, if your flight was canceled or delayed, only one top airline guaranteed that you could rebook for free, even because they’re the ones who cancelled you, not you; you didn’t fail to show up. They can — they — they cancelled.”
I am not sure what airline Biden is referring to, but I do not know of any airline that historically failed to re-accommodate you if the delay or cancellation was within the airline’s control.
Finally, he pivoted to seating fees:
“The Department of Transportation is working on rules that would require airlines and travel sites to disclose fees up front, fees like things if you want to sit next to your young child. Well, guess what? Or your — check your baggage or change your ticket.
“You’re going to be surprised. They’re going to charge you for that without telling you. Your ticket is going to cost a heck of a lot more.”
To my knowledge, all these fees must already be disclosed and passengers who book so-called “basic economy” tickets are explicitly warned they may be separated from loved ones. At this point of maturity in the U.S. airline market, I find it difficult to believe there are “surprises” for charges for items like seat assignments and baggage that have not been included for years. This is not 2011 or even 2017.
Then Biden transitions to internet fees, lambasting the laundry list of fees that are tacked on to the monthly service charge each month. He sums up this part of the speech with a general statement:
“I’m not saying they can’t charge it, but they got to let you know they’re going to charge it. You can make a decision.”
That seems fair enough to me.
For good measure, he throws in:
“Some airlines, if you want six more inches between you and the seat in front, you pay more money. But you don’t know it until you purchase your ticket.”
I’m going to guess this was an off-script remark that he threw in there instead of continuing directly to his broader point, which came next:
“Look, folks, these are junk fees. They’re unfair, and they hit marginalized Americans the hardest, especially low-income folks and people of color. They benefit big corporations, not consumers, not working families. And that changes now.”
I don’t think Biden meant that charging extra for legroom was racist or unfair or particularly predatory against people of color. Instead, I think he rambled like he always does and maybe even did not know what he was saying. His point was that all the fees that the Administration is targeting target people of color.
Am I being too charitable to Biden? I am not sure suggesting the POTUS was lost in his train of thought is all that charitable. But it is not politically motivated to suggest we must look a the context to understand what Biden meant by his comments.
“You know, we’ve been working on this for a while. I know it’s been a tough few years. But from day one, my administration has been laser-focused on easing the burden facing working-class families and giving them, as my dad would say again, just a little breathing room. And because of the steps we’ve taken, the United States is in a stronger position today than any other country in the world, economically.”
See, we are happy to castigate rightful offenders on Live And Let’s Fly, especially when it comes to poor behavior onboard flights or at airports. But I hope to always do it fairly…not without cause.
Biden has never been gifted with the ability to clearly articulate his thoughts, but I think the context is pretty clear that he did not mean to imply that charging for extra legroom seats was racist.
Biden may not be articulate, but I do not think he meant to imply that charging more for extra legroom is racist. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, here.
Finally, let me voice my strong support for one such proposed modification: transparent resort fees. Live And Let’s Fly has condemned so-called “resort fees” for over a decade. The problem is not the resort fees themselves (I do not like them, but companies are free to charge them), but when they are not disclosed at the very outset, tricking people into clicking further or making a reservation based upon a bait-and-switch price. It is high time the U.S. outlaws such pricing opaqueness. Advocating for transparency should not be a controversial position.
image: White House