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DOT Rejects Virgin America Confidentiality Request

Wow, that was quick. Yesterday I wrote about Alaska's filing to try to get the DOT to act on Virgin America's request to keep traffic and financial data confidential. Either the DOT took it seriously or the timing was just a lucky coincidence, but late yesterday, Virgin America's request was denied (pdf).

In the ruling, the DOT said that to determine if Virgin America's request would be permitted, two things had to be proven:

To summarize, commercial or financial matter is 'confidential' for purposes of this exemption if disclosure of the information is likely to have either of the following effects: (1) to impair the Government's ability to obtain necessary information in the future; or (2) to cause substantial harm to the competitive position of the person from whom the information was obtained. Emphasis added.
Well the first one clearly isn't true, because the submission of this data is required by the government. That means that denying this claim for confidentiality won't prevent them from getting the data in the future in any way. That was an easy one.

The second one is the one that was the focus of this decision. Would it cause substantial harm to Virgin America?

The first argument seemed weak, if not ridiculous:

Carriers compete for customers based on a number of factors as customers shop for the best available transportation services. Some carriers compete on price but others emphasize the quality of the product it is offering consumers. These factors are not divulged in the Form 41 financial, traffic, and O&D data.
Price and schedule are the big competitive points in this business. So what if quality of product isn't stated in the Form 41 data? That's easy enough to find out by buying a ticket on the plane. But, ultimately this point doesn't matter because the next sentence said it all.
All large certificated carriers including new "startup" carriers have their financial, traffic, and O&D data publicly released and the Department is unaware of any of these carriers suffering substantial competitive harm due to the public disclosure of the aviation data at issue.
And there you have it. So what happens now? Virgin America has 10 days to appeal, and the data will remain private during the appeal period. If no appeal is filed, the data becomes public. I can't wait to see it.
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