Orbitz, Thanks, But You Must Do More

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November 12, 2010

Orbitz Worldwide, Inc.
500 W. Madison, Suite 1000
Chicago, Illinois 60661

Dear Sir or Madam:

I was pleased at the rapid response from your department regarding my letter dated Oct 25th. Lisa Diehl emailed to tell me that Orbitz will waive the $30 change fee for my tickets. I have been waiting to hear from US Air since they also charge a fee. Earlier this week, US Air stated that they would in fact waive the change ticket fee of $150. I was connected to US Air Reservations and I did change my ticket so that I will now be flying out of the nearest airport without a scanner.

For the privilege of not having my natural human right to protection of my own body violated, I am being charged by US Air an extra $90, paying to rent a car and child seat one-way, will be driving 4 hours, and will be flying an additional 3 hours including an additional layover. I hope you can see why I find Orbitz’s and US Air’s offers unsatisfactory.

The letter that Lisa Diehl wrote to me says that this issue will be brought up with the trade group and the TSA. I was happy to hear that Orbitz is willing to take some steps towards addressing this serious violation of their customer’s rights. Has there been any progress in the last two weeks on this front? Please keep us informed.

Despite this, I still think that Orbitz must be more proactive in protecting their customers. In my particular case, I had flown out of my local airport (BWI) only two months before buying my tickets. I did not even consider that I would encounter a scanner when I planned this trip. It was only on a whim that I thought I should be sure. You see, I knew that if I was confronted with the non-choice of a scanner or frisk, that I would opt to not fly at all and then it would be too late to get to California for Christmas. If Orbitz had a policy of providing their customers with the latest information on airports with scanners (as available on the TSA website and elsewhere on the web) at the time that the customer made their travel arrangements, then I could have avoided having to change my travel plans — I would have just planned accordingly at the time of purchase. I seriously doubt that most Orbitz customers are even aware of the possibility of these scanners, the types of images that the scanners produce, and the alternative pat-down procedure. Instead, they are caught by surprise (or go through the scanner having no idea what it is) on the day when they travel, when it is too late to make satisfactory alternative arrangements.

Lisa’s email says that Orbitz appreciates my concern for privacy. I would like to repeat here what I told the US Air representative who made a similar statement: I do not think that you fully understand my concern. If you did, I would not be offered a mere pittance of a waiver of the penalty fee for changing my ticket. I was in tears last weekend as I contemplated the corner that the airline industry has backed me into. I must either become a victim of voyeurism or become a victim of sexual assault in order to take my daughter to see her grandparents, great aunt, great uncle, and great grandmother for Christmas. Not only that, but I have to make the same choice for my child. I absolutely will not allow either of us to be victims of abuse.

At this time, it appears that there are three airports each about a four hour drive from my home which are unlikely to force this choice on me by virtue of not having scanners. I live near Washington, DC, so there are actually five airports that are significantly closer to my house that I now cannot patronize. Unless Orbitz steps up to the plate soon, I will not only stop making air travel arrangements with them but I will also not make any car rental, hotel, or any other vacation arrangements with them. I will do my own driving and call hotels directly. The extra time and money is not a factor when my human rights are at stake.

Lisa’s email also says: "In this post 9-11 world, we are also equally committed to helping the US government maintain a safe and secure air space." And that Orbitz wants to strike a "balance between customer privacy and our nation’s security." It is very important to me that everyone at Orbitz recognizes that there is no such thing as a balance when it comes to individual rights. Either our individual rights are protected or they’re not. We live in a society grounded in human rights with a Constitutional protection against warrantless searches of our persons and property. There is no exception for "national security."

Here is my proposal: your company and US Air (to whom I am sending a similar letter) can figure out a way to return the extra $90 that I have been charged for having dignity, and also figure out a way to cover my car rental and gas expenses for the four hour trek to a semi-civilized airport. I find it laughable that both your and US Air’s customer service departments claim that they unable to honor this request. You both have the ability to offer discounts, vouchers, and cash for such expenses, and I fully expect you to do so. I do not care which company does so and how.

As before, I will be making this letter and your response public. So far, thousands of people have been following my case, and I expect the number to continue to grow as public opinion about the airline industry continues to turn. Even pilots’ and flight attendants’ unions have come out against the latest TSA procedures! I am also CC’ing the CEO’s of both US Air and Orbitz on their respective letters in the unlikely event that they are unaware of the damage that has been self-inflicted on each of their company’s bottom lines by the decades of cronyism and complicity in violating passengers’ rights.

Sincerely,

Kathryn Muratore
cc: Barney Harford, CEO

Kathryn Muratore [send her mail] is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at American University. She holds a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley. Visit her blog protesting the TSA’s naked scanners.

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