Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

Punishing Flight Delays and Unintended Consequences

By Paul Jacob

There's a so-called Law of Unintended Consequences that describes the negative results of well-meaning interventions in the affairs of men. However, If you know whats going to happen, can consequences ever be unintended?

I think we all know the basics: if you punish a behavior, you discourage it, and if you reward a behavior, you encourage it.

I'll tell you what made me put on my economics hat today. A new European Union regulation is forcing airlines to pay passengers if a flight is delayed. Just delayed. Not as a matter of agreement between customer and vendor but as a matter of law. A single flight delay can now cost an airline hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now, delays usually have causes, including safety- related causes. So this regulation punishes airlines for safeguarding passengers.

You can predict what the consequences will be. Recently a British Airways plane was in the news after its pilot decided to fly across the Atlantic with a busted engine. Otherwise the airline would have had to pay over the $280,000 to compensate the passengers. I'm not saying the pilot shouldn't be blamed for making a bad decision here. But a regulatory regime that punishes businesses for exercising reasonable diligence bears blame too.

And there's another unintended consequence to this over-regulation. This, of course, is just the sort of "innovative" rule that an American politician would look at and say, "Hey, why aren't we doing what the sophisticated Europeans are doing here? We have flight delays!"

It sounds like crash and burn to me.

This is Common Sense. I'm Paul Jacob.

Common Sense is published by Americans for Limited Government. Their website can be visited at www.limitedgov.org.