Wednesday, 11 August 2004

"This 'Privocrat' Believes In the Freedom to Travel"

Today the Wall Street Journal published my letter in reply to last week’s ad hominem attack on their op-ed page:

This ‘Privocrat’ Believes in the Freedom to Travel

In regard to Heather Mac Donald’s Aug. 5 editorial-page commentary “Hijacked by the ‘Privocrats’”: Whatever Ms. Mac Donald means by calling me a “privocrat,” it seems peculiar that a professed believer in market-oriented policies is championing CAPPS-II (or whatever new name the program will be given), which would impose a billion-dollar unfunded government mandate on the travel industry for changes to its information technology infrastructure. And it’s unfortunate that she accepts the government’s claims about CAPPS-II so uncritically.

“Passengers already give their name, address and phone number to make a flight reservation,” she writes. Actually, group reservations are routinely made with no names at all. Most reservations contain only a travel agency, not passenger, address or phone number — as government contractors found out in 2002 when they started testing CAPPS-II with real reservations, and as airline industry representatives have pointed out in testimony to Congress.

She says that “neither the government nor the airlines would have kept any of the information beyond the safe completion of a flight.” In fact, because reservations contain financial records, current tax and accounting regulations require airlines to retain them for years.

Lastly, she claims the government “would have had no access to the commercial records used to check a passenger’s alleged identity.” But under the USA-PATRIOT Act, the government can get access to travel reservations and other commercial records at any time. And the additional identifying information in reservations will enable them to be indexed into lifetime “travel histories” freely shareable with foreign governments (doesn’t that make you feel safer?) or anyone to whom travel companies choose to sell them.

Ms. Mac Donald confesses she is mystified as to why “the government should pay heed to people who so disregard the public good.” Personally, I consider freedom — including the freedom to travel, recognized in the First Amendment as the “right of the people… peaceably to assemble” — to be part of the public good.

Oddly, although my letter was published almost uncut, one error (corrected in the version above) was added. I had said that “Most reservations contain only a travel agency, not passenger, address or phone number.” That was changed, without my being consulted, to, “Most reservations contain only a travel agency, not passenger name , address or phone number.” [my emphasis] I’m not sure what to make of the change, other than that the Journal’s editors, like most travellers outside the travel industry, assume they know more about the content of airline reservations than they actually do.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 11 August 2004, 07:52 ( 7:52 AM)

Since I started working in the travel industry, I have learned a lot about how the reservations systems work, even more so after I began actually working in the office of an agency doing various IT tasks and other projects.

One interesting aspect that I have come across is that even large corporations within the travel community do not understand the workings of reservations. While launching a new private label for a large conglomerate- they continually requested we provide them with information- that we as an agent supplier (and not a direct to consumer) could not provide. They did not understand that when a travel agent calls us and makes a reservation, the only information we have is what the agent provides. They could not understand why we were unable to provide them with information such as financial status of the client!

Of course a travel agent doesn't provide us with anything more than a name and travel date: They do not want us stealing their customers!

Posted by: Clay, 20 August 2004, 16:04 ( 4:04 PM)
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