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Guess who the government wants to help? The airlines

Anyone who flies these days knows the last thing the airline industry needs is more favors.

You already can’t fit in a seat, can’t get a meal, and can’t take bags, change your ticket, sit where you want or even speak to a human being without incurring a fee.

Yet incredibly, thanks to President Trump’s push to get rid of regulations, the U.S. Department of Transportation asked the airline industry to suggest any rules or regulations that it — the airline industry — wanted to lose.

Why not ask a teenager if he wants the curfew changed? Why not ask a bank robber if the safe combination is too hard? Can our government really be asking these shameless, profit-soaked airlines how to make life easier?

Yep. It just did. And — what a shock! — the airlines, according to the Wall Street Journal, came back with hundreds of pages of suggestions. Thank you for asking. Now that you mention it, we’d love to get rid of those pesky passengers once they pay for tickets … .

Unbelievable. And I’m not a person who says “unbelievable.”

Laughable. Outrageous. Unbelievable.

Remember that, since deregulation, the government is very limited in how much it can do with airlines. The few rules in recent years stem from the enormous complaints from customers. Yet amongst regulations the airlines want to dump:

• Get rid of the “tarmac rule” which requires airlines compensate passengers stranded an unreasonably long time — say, 10 hours on a runway?

• No longer have to publish on-time performance or cancellation rates.

• Get rid of the 24-hour grace period to refund a ticket. If you typed a mistake, too bad, you pay a penalty.

• At the same time, kill the rule that makes airlines honor their mistakes if they publish the wrong fares. You can’t make this stuff up.

• Lose the rule that makes airlines show the full price for a ticket.

• Lighten the rules — and maybe allow a fee — for wheelchair service. Wheelchair service? Yeah. Because we all know it’s handicapped passengers who are keeping the airlines down.

It would be funny if it weren’t so outrageous. You’d like to say, “There’s no way the government does this — they know what flying is like!”

And then you realize, the impetus comes from a man who hasn’t flown commercial in an awful long time. It’s true, Trump once owned a small airline. But last I looked, there’s a big difference in owning one and flying on one.

Airlines raking in billions … and want relief?

What a shame. This isn’t the donut business. Flying is essential to the economy, medical care, uniting families. There’s a reason many countries nationalize their airlines.

But here, while trumpeting the free market, airlines have become so insensitive and so froth-at-the-mouth greedy with fees, fees and more fees, that someone in the government has to say, “Enough.”

This is an industry that thinks nothing of bumping you — sometimes forcibly — off a flight, but wants a $250 fee if you switch a reservation. An industry that tells you to arrive 90 minutes before a flight, but won’t say your flight is delayed until you’re about to board. An industry that treats your Internet service like a bomb, but will charge you 20 bucks to use theirs.

Do I need to go on? Arbitrary ticket prices, inhuman seating, devious overbooking, crew delays and maintenance delays that not only strand passengers, but dump them on waiting lines that rival a new iPhone release.

It’s an industry that will shout about “historically low fares” while never broadcasting its historically high profits. Last year it took in $57 billion alone in ancillary fees. That’s $57 billion for things they used to give you for free.

When courtesy is traded for profit, that’s called greed.

Yet the airlines have the audacity to turn in hundreds of pages of ways to make their lives easier. And in that filing, they claimed the “DOT has strayed far from the limited scope of the statutory mandate Congress gave it when deregulating the airline industry nearly 40 years ago.”

Aww. Is the mean old government crimping their freedom? It hasn’t stopped them from buying each other up to the point that the consumer has precious little choice of carriers. Meanwhile, for the 35 years before they merged, American Airlines and US Air combined for $1 billion in profits; in the four years since they merged, it’s nearly $20 billion. Their CEO said he’s now banking on an average of $5 billion in profits each year and actually told the media, “I don’t think we’re ever going to lose money again.”

Does this sound like a business that needs relief?

So why is our government, while ignoring truly needy factions, playing butler to an already rich, opportunistic, overindulged industry?

It reminds me of that line in the recent Winston Churchill movie, “Darkest Hour” where Churchill screams, “You can’t reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!”

How about our leaders first take the steely jaws of this industry off the necks of the American consumer, and worry about giving it a foot massage later?

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

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