The main campus of the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines in Atlanta.
The main campus of the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines in Atlanta. Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

How Involved Should Travel Companies Be in Politics?

Should travel companies be involved in politics at all?

The main purpose of a company is to satisfy the needs of its customers while simultaneously earning revenue as a result of engaging in commerce by being in business selling products or services. The company must have a meaningful vision — which is sometimes defined by a mission statement — and be profitable in achieving that vision and mission…

How Involved Should Travel Companies Be in Politics?

…but in recent years, companies have been more proactive in espousing thoughts, beliefs, and ideologies which are designed to persuade and influence stakeholders — including customers — into aligning towards them; and sometimes this is being achieved through political means…

…which brings up the question: how involved should travel companies be in politics — especially when they have the clout, finances, numbers, and power to actually matter?

When the Supreme Court of the United States voted on Friday, June 24, 2022 to uphold a restriction on abortion in the state of Mississippi and also to overturn what had been considered for almost 50 years the Constitutional right for women to abort their unborn fetuses — stating that “the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion” and that “the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives” — an official public announcement pertaining to the controversial issue was publicly released from Alaska Airlines shortly thereafter on that same day.

“From a purely business sense, I don’t think it’s smart for public companies to voice support on this issue”, DaninMCI — who is a reader of The Gate — opined. “Statements for or against abortion might serve to make some employees and customers feel better about their opinion that isn’t going to change due to such a statement but it risks alienating a good percentage of their customer base across demographic lines.”

NB_ga — who is also a reader of The Gate — agreed: “Pure virtue-signaling! It is disgusting that a company is publicizing its corporate policies for attention in an attempt to profit from it. A shame regardless of your opinion of the ruling.”

Some companies have become so political in recent years that they have faced backlash as a result, according to this video from Fox News.

Back on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, Edward Bastian — who is the current chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines — issued the following memorandum to employees of the airline pertaining to the controversial new voting law in Georgia:

Your Right to Vote

Just two weeks ago, we honored civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew Young by naming a building on our campus in his honor and establishing a permanent exhibit to his lifelong work in the lobby. The building was chosen because it is the first place most new Delta employees visit when they come to work for us, and we wanted them to see, on their first day, just how closely our mission of connecting the world intertwines with the work of heroes like Ambassador Young, a former Delta board member whose steady hand helped save our airline in the dark years following 9-11.

For all the pride we take in the achievements of Ambassador Young and other civil rights heroes – many of them from our hometown of Atlanta – we know that much work remains to be done to truly establish a just and equitable society. Last week, the Georgia legislature passed a sweeping voting reform act that could make it harder for many Georgians, particularly those in our Black and Brown communities, to exercise their right to vote.

Since the bill’s inception, Delta joined other major Atlanta corporations to work closely with elected officials from both parties, to try and remove some of the most egregious measures from the bill. We had some success in eliminating the most suppressive tactics that some had proposed.

However, I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.

The right to vote is sacred. It is fundamental to our democracy and those rights not only need to be protected, but easily facilitated in a safe and secure manner.

After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it’s evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives. That is wrong.

The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.

So there is much work ahead, and many more opportunities to have an impact. I want the entire Delta family to know that we stand together in our commitment to protect and facilitate your precious right to vote. That’s why we invested heavily in our get-out-the-vote efforts last year, and we can all be proud of Delta’s contribution to the historic voter turnout in 2020.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will be working with leaders across the political spectrum in states nationwide in this effort. We’re also closely monitoring legislation in Congress – named after the late Atlanta civil rights hero and Delta friend John Lewis – that will expand voting rights nationwide and working with the Representatives and Senators that represent our communities.

I know this result in Georgia has caused frustration, anger and pain for many members of our Delta family. I commit to you that as we move forward, Delta will continue to do everything in our power to hear and protect your voice and your rights, both in Georgia and nationwide.

Thank you for all you do for your communities, your loved ones, and for our Delta family, every day.

Ed

The irony is that Delta Air Lines — along with Coca-Cola and other companies — was initially in support of that voting law before reversing course on its stance. As a result of the passing of that controversial voting law, some people had decided to avoid travel to the state of Georgia in protest.

The Controversial Stance Against the National Rifle Association

In the wake of the mass murders of 17 innocent people which resulted from the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in Florida on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, a major rift of factions who are sharply divided on the issue of gun control had widened significantly — and Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Best Western, Hertz, National Car Rental, Avis, Enterprise Rent a Car, Alamo Rent A Car, Budget Car Rental, and many other travel companies had taken the stance of denouncing the National Rifle Association on its official position and subsequently cut the discounts and benefits of their products and services for members of that organization.

Legislation in the form of a bill called House Bill 821 calls for the amendment of Title 48 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, which would have essentially eliminated the sales and use taxes levied on jet fuel for all airlines which purchase fuel in the state of Georgia; and Delta Air Lines stood to benefit the most from this legislation to the tune of tens of millions of dollars

…but in a bizarre twist over the stance of the airline with regard to the National Rifle Association — or NRA — the now-former Republican lieutenant governor of the state of Georgia had threatened to “kill any tax legislation that benefits unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with . Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.”

Nathan Deal — who was then the governor of the state of Georgia — on Friday, March 2, 2018 signed a $5 billion tax relief bill even after the removal of the portion of the bill which would have eliminated the sales and use taxes levied on jet fuel for all airlines which purchase fuel in the state of Georgia after the Senate Rules Committee of the state of Georgia voted to remove the jet fuel tax break slated for Delta Air Lines out of a comprehensive tax overhaul, which initially seemed to mean that Casey Cagle got his way…

…but Deal announced that he signed an executive order citing that effective as of Wednesday, August 1, 2018, the sales and use taxes levied on jet fuel for all airlines which purchase fuel in the state of Georgia will be suspended indefinitely anyway, and Casey Cagle ultimately lost his bid against Brian Kemp to become the current governor of Georgia.

How Much Money Travel Companies Contribute to Politicians

Publicly announcing political stances is not the only way travel companies — and their creative corporate communications departments with their carefully crafted copy — influence the political landscape in the United States. You can also find out how much money they contribute to both members of the Democratic Party and Republican Party.

For example, Delta Air Lines leads the commercial airline transportation industry in 2022 by allegedly contributed a total of $1,141,534.00 million dollars at the time this article was written — $451,194.00 to Democrats and $673,194.00 to Republicans.

As for the lodging and tourism industry, Sunburst Hospitality leads the way in 2022 by allegedly contributed a total of $1,082,600.00 million — all of which went to Democrats. Choice Hotels International allegedly contributed a total of $569,557.00 million — also all of which went to Democrats.

The total alleged contributions from the Marriott International, Incorporated political action committee to federal candidates in 2022 is $48,000.00 — 72.92 percent of which went to Democrats; and 27.08 percent of which went to Republicans — and the details of who were the recipients are listed. The shift to supporting Democrats financially increased significantly from the 55.64 percent of the $204,000.00 which was allegedly contributed in 2020.

No political action committee of a travel company is featured in the list of the top 20 political action committees to candidates in 2022.

Hillary Clinton had hoped to become president of the United States in 2016; and despite criticizing airlines for high airfares back in October of 2015, she had already received $145,246.00 from the commercial airline industry as of Sunday, March 6, 2016 — placing her as the top recipient of funds from airlines as released by the Federal Election Commission of the United States as of Monday, February 22, 2016, according to this list provided by the Center For Responsive Politics, which is a nonpartisan research group not for profit based in the District of Columbia.

As the top recipient of political contributions from the commercial airline industry in 2020, Donald J. Trump allegedly received $1,972,616.00; and Joseph R. Biden — who is the current president of the United States — is currently the top recipient of political contributions in 2022 with $8,714.00.

To look up political contributions by industry as listed by OpenSecrets.org, click here.

Final Boarding Call

Many of the aforementioned companies employ tens of thousands of people — and not every single employee completely agrees with every political issue on which they company for whom they work has a position, which can result in a potentially faulty stance that can change things for the worse.

I personally believe that companies have no business in trying to influence and control the political landscape, as it is usually beyond the scope of their vision and mission of serving customers — unless an issue directly affects them. I also oppose corporations which announce their expressions of a moral viewpoint with the intent of communicating good character — and I believe that intent is often phony. For example, how many companies are “celebrating“ Pride month in June by putting a rainbow flag in their logos solely to market to a certain segment of potential customers in the quest to gain additional profit without actually practicing being fair to people who qualify to be in that category? For example, does Hyatt Corporation qualify with this sale of 20 percent off of room rates at select hotel and resort properties in celebration of Pride month?

Are travel companies — and other corporations in general — unfairly abusing their power and privilege in what has seemed to be relentless pontificating and proselytizing in what are their supposed core values? When a company supposedly supports something which it may not completely understand and then reverses course, is that considered irresponsible — especially if it ultimately affects society in general? Should the travel companies invest their funds in improving the customer experience — especially during the 2022 Summer of Meltdowns — instead of supporting political candidates?

At what point does a company cross a line at which you will no longer patronize it — or support it?

Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

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