What to do about these #$%$ing double standards

Travel is filled with hypocrisy, but here's what you can do about it

If you hate double standards, then you probably shouldn't travel.

Airlines, hotels, travel agencies and other businesses have always loved to apply one set of standards to you — and another to themselves. And it's happening now more than ever.


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It isn't just the government's set of double standards — fining passengers for rowdy behavior but failing to penalize their airlines for their frequent customer service failures. The airline industry also plays the double-standards game, and so do many other travel businesses. 

Question is, what are you going to do about it, apart from complaining? Well, it turns out there are things you can do.

DO YOU HATE DOUBLE STANDARDS TOO? OK, what's your most hated double standard in the travel industry? Have you experienced it yourself in your travels? I'd love to hear from you. Push the big red button to leave your comment.

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One standard for them, one for you

It's infuriating, and it goes way beyond the Department of Transportation (DOT) cracking down on us and then letting the airlines do whatever they want. 

Airlines are some of the biggest proponents of double standards. You've heard about flight attendants cracking down on people who aren't wearing their masks exactly right — fully covering the nose and mouth.

But what happens when flight attendants don't follow these same rules? Well, I've heard from plenty of passengers who witnessed flight attendants with poorly fitting masks, not covering their nose or mouth, or not wearing a mask at all while they're in the galley. I've even seen it myself.

What happens to these crewmembers who thumb their noses at the rules? Nothing. The passengers I've spoken to say they're afraid to say anything because they believe they'll get kicked off the plane. They have good reason to feel that way.

More stupid double standards

I'm not done talking about airlines. Here's another convenient double standard: Remember when airlines stopped serving food because they claimed it would spread COVID on the plane? They soon resumed food service, but only for business- and first-class passengers. 

Were the elites in the front somehow protected from the virus, while the unwashed masses in the back were not? No. Back then, there wasn't even a vaccine. Yet airlines claimed that the risk of infection was too great, so they couldn't feed the folks in steerage. 

Yeah, right.

Here's a better explanation: Airlines were looking for an excuse to cut meal service in the back of the plane, and COVID just gave them cover. Another double standard from which we haven't recovered, and from which we may never recover.

The worst double standard of all

The one double standard we all love to hate is one that few bother to question. How can a company like a cruise line or tour operator take your money instantly from your credit card but then take months — even years — to return it?

Oh, I know. You can blame a company's antiquated back-office systems, which require each refund to be done manually. Or you can point the finger at the pandemic. But this glaring double standard needs to be fixed. 

The DOT has a rule that any airline refund must be processed within seven business days if the passenger paid by credit card, and 20 business days if the passenger paid by cash or check. But airlines have repeatedly ignored this rule, with absolutely zero consequences. No DOT enforcement at all.

Ditto for other travel companies, most notably cruise lines and tour operators. They take your money and then do who-knows-what with it. Maybe they're investing it in the stock market? Maybe they think you've just given them a microloan to help them get through the pandemic? 

Online travel agencies are the worst. Instead of issuing a prompt refund, they blame suppliers for supposedly holding on to your money. Travel agents are quick to tout the benefits of working with a third party, but when it's time for a refund, they quickly shirk their responsibility and point the finger at the airline, cruise line or tour operator.

There are lots of other travel industry double standards, as I explained in this 2007 column for NBC.com. Sad to say, not much has changed since then.

What to do about the travel industry's double standards

Silence is consent when it comes to these nefarious industry practices. But you can fight back — and you should. 

Don't give your money to companies with double standards.

They don't deserve your business

We keep track of companies that have double standards on our nonprofit consumer advocacy site. If you see a company there that you're thinking of doing business with, don't. Walk away. Find another company. That sends a powerful message that double standards won't be tolerated.

Complain to authorities

I believe one reason that the DOT hasn't enforced its refund rule is that people have stopped complaining about it. Sure, there was a surge of complaints right after the pandemic started. In May 2020, the government published a mealy-mouthed enforcement order urging airlines to refund tickets for canceled flights. But the complaints slowed to a trickle. And refunds continue to lag. But maintaining pressure on the government works, so keep those complaints to the DOT coming.

Get your social media on

You can, of course, take your double-standard grievance to the court of public opinion. Anyone with an account on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn can call out a company for having a double standard. And again, if enough people do it, you'll get results.

Will any of these strategies work? If enough people use them, yes. But unfortunately, only a small number of travelers take action when they see injustice.

Are you one of them?

Comment time! There are so many double standards out there, I've only scratched the surface. Tell me your stories of double standards in the travel industry. I'll share some of mine, too.

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About the art

Artist Dustin Elliott says he sought to capture a "visual fantasy dreamt by an authoritarian semi-pathological flight attendant." Now with free rein to crack down on unruly passengers, this sadist of the sky experiences virtuous anger, enforced by a narrative that uses the fear of death at its base. "For better or worse," he adds, "we see behavior displayed in the name and guise of safety and public health." For more information about Dustin's art, check out his site.