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Opinion: Why won’t the government let United Airlines die?

FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, file photo, travelers check in at the United Airlines ticket
Travelers check in at the United Airlines ticket counter at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Dec. 21, 2013.
(Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, the Los Angeles Times’ letters writer, and it is Saturday, April 15, 2017. Don’t panic — tax day falls on April 18 this year. Until then, join me in procrastination by taking a look back at the week in Opinion.

Since 2001, United Airlines has gone through a three-year bankruptcy process, stayed near the bottom among U.S. carriers in customer-service rankings, and endured a tumultuous mega-merger with a rival airline. So its latest blunder — the “reaccommodation” of a ticketed and already seated passenger whose bloodied face and thuggish mistreatment aboard a United regional flight sparked a major public backlash — ought to have the airline worried for its survival, right?

Not really — and we can thank Washington, writes libertarian pundit Matt Welch. He explains why in a Times op-ed article:

Foreign companies and individuals — think Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic Airways — are forbidden by U.S. law from owning more than 25% of a domestic airline. That’s why Virgin America could be sold last year to Alaska Airlines over the express wishes of Virgin’s famous founder: He just didn’t have enough votes.

The differently headquartered are banned outright from servicing routes between two American cities, a practice with the sinister-sounding name of cabotage. And carriers from Singapore to the Gulf States are not only barred from competition, but subject to sneering taunts by American legacies from behind the protectionist firewall, such as when United CEO Oscar Munoz this March said that companies, including the well-regarded Emirates, “aren’t real airlines.”....

The irony of America’s lagging air travel quality — including the abject lousiness of its airports, which President Trump is absolutely correct about — is that we once led the world in airline innovation. When the domestic industry was deregulated in the mid-1970s, thanks to then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, future Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, liberal economist Alfred Kahn, and President Carter (yes, you read all that right), our trading partners scrambled to become more like us. Then they surpassed us.

It took a couple of decades, but eventually the European Union dismantled subsidies for national carriers, privatized a number of airports (something unheard of here), and let literally hundreds of low-cost airlines run riot. It even allowed some foreign-airline cabotage, on a case-by-case basis. The result is those annoying Instagram pics from friends who live in London, showing off that people in Europe fly everywhere for dirt cheap.

Yes, airlines on the continent come and go faster than New York restaurants. But that’s precisely the point: With real competition comes real failure, hopefully followed by bankruptcy and even liquidation, instead of American-style too-big-to-fail bailouts. How many customers must United pummel before they can Gershwin us no more?

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Another thing United needs to work on: keeping animals alive. Among U.S. airlines, notes editorial writer Carla Hall, United has the worst record for transporting pets safely on airplanes, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Still, an individual pet owner’s chance of having an animal companion die or become injured flying on United is very remote, Hall writes, but that hasn’t stopped complaints from human passengers about the airline mishandling their pets. L.A. Times

Inside the Trump bubble, Sean Spicer’s “Holocaust centers” gaffe might make sense. Noah Berlatsky writes in a Times op-ed article that the White House press secretary’s undeniably false comment comparing Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons to Adolf Hitler’s alleged non-use is just one offense among many statements that show the Trump White House sees itself as the leader of white America. L.A. Times

Behold the national fascination with wet, rainy, green California. With the northern part of the state officially in its wettest season on record, the obligatory before-and-after photos of California’s rivers and reservoirs are popping up throughout the Web. We’ve seen these before — only now, instead of showing how bad it was after years of drought, they show a state that can barely contain the rain falling on it. The Atlantic

Shocked by the San Bernardino school shooting? Then you haven’t been paying attention. Acts of domestic violence and senseless gun deaths happen everyday in America, and the shock over an incident at a San Bernardino school that involved both should wake us up to that sad reality. “It’s disturbing to think that if [Cedric Anderson] hadn’t killed his wife in such a public and dramatic way, the crime would have barely rippled beyond the grief of their families and friends,” writes The Times Editorial Board. L.A. Times

She knows firsthand of the dangers women face daily in Afghanistan. Najia Karimi, who runs an emergency women’s shelter in Kabul, writes of the teenagers forced into marriages who are raped and neglected by their captors, the women horrifically injured by men who accuse them of threatening their “honor,” and those who struggle daily just to attend school. A solution? “We need a new, wholistic approach to peace, one which meaningfully includes women in government positions and in active decision-making on the country’s future — and one which acknowledges the connection between violence inside and outside of the home,” Karimi writes. “Until that happens, I’ll need to keep the shelter running.” L.A. Times

Reach me: paul.thornton@latimes.com


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