Charlie Leocha is the Director of the Consumer Travel Alliance. He was appointed by DOT Secretary LaHood to the Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protections and was appointed by TSA Administrator John Pistole to the Advisory Subcommittee on Consumers.
Here is his extended bio:
Childhood, education and military service
I am from an Air Force family. I grew up moving between my father’s assignments in Naples, Italy, and the Washington, DC, area. My father was a colonel who worked at the highest levels of intelligence with the Joint Chief of Staff in the Mediterranean. I was an Eagle Scout, ROTC scholarship student and University of New Hampshire Student Body President. At graduation, my university peers awarded me the Hood Achievement Award as the student “… who shows the greatest promise through character, scholarship, leadership, and usefulness to humanity.”
I graduated Cum Laude with a BA in Economics from University of New Hampshire.
I have a Masters in Education from Boston University in Counseling and Human Services.
In the military immediately after graduation, I was detailed to the leadership school at Ft. Benning and eventually became an Army Military Intelligence officer. I served in Europe from 1973 through 1976. My major assignments were security officer for nuclear weapons for a missile battalion based outside of Frankfurt, Germany, and then became the Army VII Corps Commanding General’s daily briefer in Stuttgart, Germany.
Publishing and journalism
After leaving the military, I started a private magazine, R&R Entertainment Digest that was distributed to the military troops in Europe. It focused on travel for military personnel during off-duty time. The magazine was distributed free of charge to U.S. troops in the U.K., Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey and the 6th Fleet.
I returned to the U.S. in 1986 and started a publishing company that dealt with travel. In 1994 I wrote Travel Rights, the first book dedicated to listing passenger rights as well as hotel, rental car and credit card rights. I became one of the country’s experts on travel rights, appearing on radio and TV frequently discussing passenger issues. I also wrote more than 40 travel guidebooks about Europe and the U.S., if new editions are counted. Freelance travel articles were published in virtually every major magazine and newspaper between 1987 and 2007.
From 2005 to 2006 I worked as MSNBC’s travel guru appearing on a regular weekend travel segment. Topics ranged from travel tips and passenger rights to destination information. During my three years here in Washington, every major network, many cable stations and scores of radio stations have called on me to speak as an expert commentator about passenger rights and airline news stories.
Consumer Travel Alliance
In 2009, I came to Washington, DC, to work at effecting change for consumers from inside the system, rather than continue complaining from the outside. Together with other journalists, I formed The Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA), a 501C3 non-profit dedicated to providing consumers an articulate and reasoned voice in decisions that affect travel consumers across travel’s entire spectrum. CTA’s staff gathers facts, analyzes issues and disseminates that information to the public, the travel industry, regulators and policy makers.
As the director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, I have been involved with the following projects and actions over the past three years:• testified before the Senate Commerce Committee regarding the merger of Continental and United Airlines.
• met with DOJ regarding the Google purchase of ITA Software and instigated meetings between DOJ and DOT regarding your department’s regulation authority over the merged company.
• met regularly with the DOT Enforcement Division staff to discuss consumer perspectives on pending rulemakings and upcoming passenger protection initiatives.
• prompted the FAA to send out a clarification of their seatback-pocket rules.
• worked with the Federal Reserve Board, and the largest credit card issuers when United Airlines wanted to change the credit card relationship with travel agents that would have eliminated consumers’ purchase protections in case of denial of service or bankruptcy.
• proposed a series of airport posters that would inform passengers of their rights.
• conducted and published scores of surveys about passenger rights drawing on our online newsletter circulation of more than 20,000 unique visitors monthly as well as associated websites.
• helped create a website that tracks customer service contacts for airline-related and other customer service problems.
• published a travel resources section to the CTA website that aggregates federal travel information from DOT, FAA, TSA, ICE, CDC, Department of State and more.
• worked closely with ASTA, the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) and other consumer-facing travel organizations to improve passengers’ access to full air travel costs including ancillary fees.
• Together with ASTA and BTC, CTA organized the “Mad as Hell about Hidden Airline Fees” program that received national media coverage and delivered more than 60,000 signatures to your office from individual airline consumers asking for full disclosure of ancillary fees so that the total price of air transportation could be compared across airlines.
• worked with A4A, ACI and AIA to enhance pubic understanding of the pending NextGen project and develop ways to educate the public about the impact of the new systems on air travel.
• attended FAA and RTCA meetings to learn more about developing air traffic improvements.
• spoke twice at the American Bar Association about passenger protections at their forums on air and space law in Washington, DC, and Montreal, Canada.
• presented at Airports Council International about passenger issues on a panel discussion at their annual meeting together with Mr. Podberesky of the Enforcement Division.
• meet each quarter with a small group of advocates with the DHS Chief Privacy Officer. These discussions normally cover topics impacting airline travel through actions of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
• invited by the House Aviation Subcommittee last month to represent consumers at a roundtable to discuss the practical benefits of NextGen.
• had extensive one-on-one discussions about passenger rights with top-level European Commission officers focused on ancillary fee disclosure and promotion of passenger rights — Christophe Dussart and Flor Diaz-Pulido — this April in Brussels. There I also met with Mary Veronica Tovsak Pleterski, the Director of the European Commission Directorate General for Climate Action, who is responsible for the current emissions trading scheme.
• On the European air transportation industry and consumer side, I met with the head of European Technology & Travel Services Association, the top consumer protection lawyers and professors, the director of the Association of European Airlines, the European Low Fare Airline Association, the European Passenger Federation and others to discuss disclosure of ancillary airline fees as well as other consumer issues such as the emission trading scheme.
• have kept a close watch and released press statements through the CTA on deceptive practices of website operators, the new carry-on baggage charges and just-discovered Web price manipulations by Delta Air Lines.