Airline Travel: We just Expect Too Much

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My idea of a good time is to recline on the couch and a watch a news report (with video) depicting thousands of hapless holiday air travelers stuck in some major airport because a freak snow storm hammered half the continent. I can then smugly congratulate myself on having the foresight to avoid holiday travel. Except…last week, I had no choice. The publishing schedule required a short trip to the Midwest three days before Christmas. I got lucky on the weather; no snow.

Driving to my first appointment, I heard this ridiculous news segment in which some airline industry shill tried to explain the public's disdain for air travel as a result of passengers expecting too much. You know, things like a reserved seat, room for your baggage, no hidden fees on fares and "value-added" services, service with a smile rather than a snarl. That sort of stuff. He offered meal service as an example, noting that anyone starting an airline today would never think of offering free food. When he tried to segue that moronic logic into explaining why you similarly shouldn't expect free baggage space, an honest fare structure or maybe a lousy bag of pretzels, his blame-the-customer strategy ran off the rails.

This caused me think through my own attitudes toward commercial air travel which are basically neutral to slightly positive. I think the airlines do a reasonable job of getting people to their destinations on time and they have an exceptional safety record. These days, I simply tune out the TSA hassle, so my view of the cost/value for the service is basically positive. (I'm in the minority on that count.) I paid more in fares for this trip than I did a year ago, and as I've said before, I'm good with that. But I do find it odd that some airlines seem never to miss an opportunity to irritate their customers.

Leaving Kansas City for Charlotte, the airplane was clearly full if not overbooked. The gate agent was pleading with passengers to check some of their carry-on baggage, offering to do this at no charge. (Such a deal.) She was getting no takers, virtually guaranteeing forced bag checking in the midst of enplaning and thus delaying departure, forcing more delays further downstream and aggravating everyone. That's exactly what happened. If there were no bag charges, chances are, the 14 checked carry-ons the agent was asking for would have been already in the baggage hold—just like it used to be.

While this fiasco was developing, I asked myself why I wasn't checking my own roll aboard. Normally, I'm big on minor courtesies that pay dividends not just for me, but for others. I had several good reasons, all of which relate to disincentives the airline built in. First, I'd have to open the bag up, remove several thousand dollars worth of video gear and stick it into my backpack, then repack it. All because the airline maintains the right to lose or damage your baggage without readily paying you for your loss. In other words, the airline has little incentive to deliver good baggage service while I have a strong incentive not to let them try. It's true that maximum payments for lost or damaged luggage have been doubled recently, but these payments are negotiable and ask anyone who has filed a claim if the process was satisfactory.

Coming into Kansas City the night before, I found myself stuffed into a regional jet. Honestly, I think I'd rather drive. These things can't be stamped back into beer cans soon enough to suit me. On that flight, which arrived two hours late at midnight, all the bags were checked, but for some reason, it took the airline 40 minutes to unload them. They didn't do the usual pick-it-up in the jetway, but flowed the bags through the airport carrousel at the rate of about two a minute.

Disincentive number three related to freedom of the commons. Normally, I'm predisposed to do my share to help the common good because I believe that the common good usually benefits my own good. But not this time. For reasons related to convenience, baggage fees or some things ineffable, this group of passengers were voting with their butts and so was I. In fact, the entire episode was a sort of sociological study in mass behavior--how people will make decisions against their wider interest just to avoid helping an entity they despise. (The airline.)

All of which is to say once again that the airlines clever unbundling of fares may or may not be improving their bottom lines. If the former, it's doing so at the expense of continuing erosion of customer satisfaction. But, to hear the airline shill I mentioned above tell it, it's our own damn fault for expecting so much.

Comments (49)

Very well said. For those of us fortunate enough to own an airplane, the decision as to ride with the airlines, to fly ourselves, or to drive is getting harder every day. I am sure much has been written on the pros and cons of each. However, for me, riding with the airlines is choice number 3.

Posted by: David Toliver | December 27, 2011 5:34 PM    Report this comment

Low cost carriers broke the mold by unbundling, and the majors followed, yet the majors didn't lower their fares - they just reduced quality, and the passengers resent it. Having one's own aircraft is a greater privelige than ever before, and when I have flights up to 1200 miles I fly my light twin there - and it arrives when I arrive, leaves when I leave, and I don't get hassled by TSA pretending that they are protecting us, or surly airline personnel who have the power of arrest under the Patriot Act. Your discomfort is common now, and the airlines don't care. They bully their customers and the customers are bullying them back. It's not pretty.

Posted by: Patric Barry | December 28, 2011 2:02 AM    Report this comment

Bag fees provide a bump in revenue this quarter which allow the airline bean counters to justify their outsized bonus. The fact that it annoys passengers and ultimately makes the airline less efficient won't be felt on the bottom line until the current round of execs have moved on. In any case the real problem is no airline enforces their own carry on size limits.

Posted by: David Gagliardi | December 28, 2011 2:49 AM    Report this comment

Having travelled by commercial airliner since 1960 when passengers were treated like Kings. I noticed that the services have been deteriorating every year till we have today what can only be a state of where the bus service are and the pilots unfortunately have been reduce to the status of bus drivers. Defence for the airline carriers we have seen many carriers (PAN AM, BOAC and now American Airline {me thinks}) running into financial problems and going bust. Maintaining high ticket prices and annual increases did not work as people resented the high cost and the budget prices although being lowered one can only expect to have reduced services. If I cannot fly somewhere in a private aircraft then I would rather drive. Unfortunately overseas trip require an air trip (no ship these days)with a carrier but usually these do have a business/first class services which is not too bad. As for the rest thumbs down.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | December 28, 2011 5:17 AM    Report this comment

Nicely put, Paul. I've never been a fan of checking luggage mainly due to the fact that it seems to add 5 minutes (or more) on the front end and 20 minutes (or more) to the back-end of every trip. Plane-side checking is less of an issue for me, but you can rarely be guaranteed, as you pointed out. I'd agree that the airlines seem to have messed up with the unbundling pricing. Maybe they would have done better to charge $15 per carry-on (limit still one) if it is anything larger than will fit under the seat in front of you. I probably should censor myself. Now the airlines will see my comment and charge that fee in addition to the checked luggage fee...

Posted by: John O'Shaughnessy | December 28, 2011 5:22 AM    Report this comment

David, until a recent trip to Seattle on Southwest I would have agreed 100% with you. As we were standing in the starting gates, a young lady was rolling a clearly oversized bag past the gate desk. The agent actually stopped her and declared the bag might be too large for a carry on. Oh no, said the girl, it was checked before. Let's check it again suggested the agent and the young lady proceeded to mash about 1/8 of the bag, standing up, into the box. It got checked. Maybe there could be glimmer of light at the tunnels end; of course that could be the train.

Posted by: Rich Block | December 28, 2011 5:47 AM    Report this comment

Paul, right on. I have been flying for business over 33 years and I also remember what it used to be like to fly on a commercial carrier. The reality for me now is: what is the most cost and time-effective way for me to get from point A to point B? With the ticket prices, change fees, baggage fees, TSA, and time to fly, all to often it is driving - especially if someone else will be traveling with me. Weather permitting, within 400 miles I can usually drive to my customer faster than fly commercially. That said, I have also done some international flights and have to say my experience with the service was significantly better then within the US.

Posted by: Richard Norris | December 28, 2011 5:55 AM    Report this comment

The less comercial air travel I have to do the better. It wasn't good back in the eighties and it's worse now. Unfortunaltely for longer trips it's still way cheaper to fly commercial than my own aircraft if I'm the only one paying for gas. Southwest to Florida round trip 200 bucks. My plane about 1200 bucks just for gas. You do the math.

Posted by: Gary Caron | December 28, 2011 6:42 AM    Report this comment

Welcome to MCI. It always takes 45 minutes for luggage to come up at MCI. If you got yours in 40 you got lucky.

But one day I figured out why. Most airports you get about a 30 minute walk from the gate to bag claim. By the time you use the restroom on the way you end up with a 5 minute wait for the bags to come up and you have been tricked into thinking they have given you good service. But it still took 40 to 45 minutes to get your bags from the plane to bag claim. They just kept your mind off of the wait.

I'll still take my Meridian any time I can.

Posted by: John Fletcher | December 28, 2011 7:19 AM    Report this comment

The premise that a new airline wouldn't offer complimentary food and beverage is false - Porter airlines flies a fleet of 250 dash-8s out of Toronto city. Center to most cities in the north-east. Despite turbo props, they manage to sell the service as premium to the big airlines, even notwithstanding the cheaper tickets. North Americas newest airline is generating a big profit doing exactly what you think nobody would, giving a glass of wine and a small meal to everyone who wants it. Porter has developed a loyal following and generates load factors in the mid 80's on their -8's.

Posted by: Andrew Metcalfe | December 28, 2011 7:49 AM    Report this comment

Just for fun, I timed my trip from Dallas to Long Beach. Once by AA and once by myself in a Seneca-II. Starting from the moment I left my home until I walked into the hotel, I beat the overpriced/overbooked/no-overhead-space AA flight. And that included a stop in Phoenix for lunch. Sure I was in the air for a comparatively short time on the AA flight. However, I spent hours sitting at the terminal plus waiting on baggage plus standing in line at the car rental counter, not to mention the 45 minute wait to clear the TSA agents. It's a matter of perspective - sitting in the terminal or sitting in the cockpit as I cruised over the magnificent mountain West. Yep its more expensive in a private plane, but, occasionally, I prefer to enjoy life minus the hassles.

Posted by: Keith Gutierrez | December 28, 2011 8:22 AM    Report this comment

Poor management skills by the overpaid group in charge. Poor attitudes by overpaid work crews ( agents and mechanics unions etc). Combined with entitled/spoiled attitudes of we Americans. The airlines had priced themselves out of their own market, as has much of America's industry. Not surprising that both sides are disgruntled.

Posted by: Jim Vroom | December 28, 2011 9:02 AM    Report this comment

Over the years, I've traveled from Memphis to Chicago, and back, hundreds of times. At one time I could fly direct via the airlines for a reasonable charge. Flights were generally on time. I could make it a one day trip. It would be a long day, but it was doable. Right now--I am making the trip at least 1X each quarter. It's difficult to fly direct, so I have to connect through Atlanta. There are always delays. I've decided it's easier to drive. Takes 2-3 hours longer, but it's an easy trip. My blood pressure is lower + I save some money. In the spring and summer, I might even try the trip in my Citabria. Bet I can beat the airlines, if weather isn't an issue.

Posted by: David Dow | December 28, 2011 9:06 AM    Report this comment

David, you are doing what I do from Dayton to the Atlanta area - especially if I'm going to Marietta for a meeting. When you figure in the airport sitting time, the drive time to-from the airport, I can actually drive and be there sooner - weather permitting. And if my meeting gets changed I don't have to listen to some airpline agent tell me how the ticket change will be $150 for all the work they have to do to change my flight - plus the increase because it is now a higher fare structure. Funny, I never get the lower fare structure.

Posted by: Richard Norris | December 28, 2011 9:14 AM    Report this comment

If we allowed competition in our domestic markets by the likes of British Airways, Luftansa, Korean Air, Singaporre, and Air New Zealand where the airline employees provide an excellent service even to coach class passengers, we'd see improvement in our own carriers. The market would cull the weak. Service would again be service. But large labor unions have control over congress which prevents the American pulbic from getting the best for the least. Therein lies our problem.

Posted by: Stephen Ericksons | December 28, 2011 9:19 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I couldn't agree more. Since we bought a share of a Mooney several years ago we have not flown commercial and do not miss the hassle. Because the weather is rather unpredictable this time of year I had my Mother-in-law fly from Lewiston, ID to Salt Lake City commercial instead of me getting her in the Mooney.

The round trip ticket was nearly $500.00 for a 200 NM trip in a CRJ! It was not faster than I could have done in the Mooney nor was it more convenient. My wife and I have given up commercial air travel. If we can't take our plane, we don't go.

Posted by: Ric Lee | December 28, 2011 9:41 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I enjoyed your thoughts and observations as well as the above posts. Last year I flew (rode) on Delta over 100,000 miles and with similar high mileage the year before, the frequent flyer mileage awarded me with Platinum Medalion status. The perks that come with such status make take the experience to a whole new level which dampens the frustration and inconveniences to which all passengers are subjected. I, too, agree with John O'shaughnessy that the airlines should charge for carry-on luggage (not purses or briefcases) and make checked luggage free as an incentive to reduce the carry-on clusterxxxx. It would sure simplify the boarding process.

Posted by: James Sanford | December 28, 2011 9:51 AM    Report this comment

US Airways made millions in profits last year from checked bag fees. If it weren't for these fees the boss said we wouldh't have made money. All the profit was from the fees.

Posted by: Stephen Ericksons | December 28, 2011 10:03 AM    Report this comment

Every flying experience between SAN and DEN via Southwest Airlines: lots of flights and fares to choose from, two free checked bags which are always at baggage claim when I get there, orderly boarding, on time or ahead of time, helpful gate persons and flight attendants. Baggage claim is normally on the way to ground transportation. Off the airplane, picked up checked bags and in a cab in 15 or 20 minutes. What's the beef? Paraphrasing Western Airlines years ago: Southwest. The only way to fly commercial.

Posted by: Pamela Griffen | December 28, 2011 10:11 AM    Report this comment

"I simply tune out the TSA hassle."

"Hassle"?

TSA's Advanced Imaging Technology screening and enhanced pat-down procedures are an outrageous violation of our Fourth Amendment rights and an affront to the dignity of all airline passengers.

Tuning out the "TSA hassle" abdicates your responsibility to protect them. Your civil rights are everyone's to lose.

Posted by: Jack Norman | December 28, 2011 10:45 AM    Report this comment

"I simply tune out the TSA hassle."

"Hassle"?

TSA's Advanced Imaging Technology screening and enhanced pat-down procedures are an outrageous violation of our Fourth Amendment rights and an affront to the dignity of all airline passengers.

Tuning out the "TSA hassle" abdicates your responsibility to protect them. Your civil rights are everyone's to lose.

Posted by: Jack Norman | December 28, 2011 10:46 AM    Report this comment

Speaking of TSA, have you ever thought about how stupid it was to put the federal buracracy in charge of airport security rather than private business? To me that is like saying we will do away with Fedex and UPS because the post office can do a better job.

Posted by: John Fletcher | December 28, 2011 12:19 PM    Report this comment

Jack: don't you know that you are about to lose the First Amendment so why not the Fourth

Posted by: Bruce Savage | December 28, 2011 12:25 PM    Report this comment

My spouse's economy-class incompatible leg length coupled with her amost pathological aversion to TSA groping has made first/business class our only remaining ticket choice, and that only when no other option exists.

This in turn has stretched the acceptable trip length for the Bonanza to trans-continental. Not financially the best, but compared to first-class not that far out either.

Posted by: John Wilson | December 28, 2011 1:18 PM    Report this comment

Bring back regulation and YOU would be in control of all of those ails that you so dislike. I'm actually waiting for hotels to catch on to these nickel and dime shenanigans and start charging for the amount of electricity, hot water and toilet flushes I used during my stay ! Then we'll get a bunch of sad sacks claiming that "nobody could afford hotels under the old system" sniff sniff.....Really people, when is enough, enough ? I'll say that airline deregulation was a success just as soon we stop handing out subsidies for agriculture and paying farmers not to farm !

Posted by: Randolph Palma | December 28, 2011 2:28 PM    Report this comment

Love traveling in my Aeronca instead of the airlines but my wife is getting tired of my security pat downs before each leg. Hey, security is everyone's responsibility.

Posted by: Jay | December 28, 2011 6:27 PM    Report this comment

I travel by air only once in a while mostly based on distance. Driving gives one more freedom but,for me, it is accompanied by equal but different aggravations and stress. My recent commercial air trip for three with three checked babs was made much easier by brushing up on the regs and expectations for security procedures, packing much less than I would have preferred and carrying on as little as possible. Sure I made the extra effort to comply with the new rules ahead of time to make the experience as smooth as possible and it worked for me. I realize that frequent travelers have a different mindset and the vast majority can't afford to fly their own plane. Still modern commercial travel can be palatable if not rewarding.

Posted by: John Johnson | December 28, 2011 7:08 PM    Report this comment

Bashing Unions is a favorite tactic of uninformed people. "Over paid workers" ? ? ? Not at today's rate of inflation. And if Big Labor controls any part of CONGRESS I will eat your hat, Stephen. That part of Your comment has no basis in fact!!

I worked for TWA starting in the mid 60s. We were a proud airline, best airplanes, best service and a loyal customer base. What changed all that was the deregulation pushed by, not labor or Major airlines but by those wanting a piece of the pie without paying the dues. Upstarts could jump in and piggyback the routes Majors had established.

As for what poses as service today - there is little. In Shreveport last week I picked up a couple of friends flying in on one of the cheapies from Las Vegas. Their flight landed and we waited with them at the baggage claim for over 1 hour! Came to light . .ground crews unloaded incoming baggage then shoved it aside to clean, provision and load baggage so the plane could make the departure on time. Only then did they start putting the arriving bags on the conveyors. These aren't Union workers. They are paid slightly above minimum wage and worked like slaves. Watch the glitzy TV commercials and then apply a huge dose of prevarication factor.

Now another Flag carrier, AA is biting the dust. When will the parade of incompetent CEO's get labeled for what they are? Big bonuses for bankrupting the business they are managing (so poorly)?

Posted by: GARY HANSON | December 28, 2011 7:21 PM    Report this comment

Airlines have been in survival mode for 10 years now. People do not want to pay for service. If people did want to pay more for service former full service airlines like United would still be providing service. People voted with their dollars and chose the low cost carriers. Now all airlines are low cost. A manager from Delta once told me the average customer will not book on Delta if Delta’s ticket price is $5 dollars more than the completion. If you stop and do the math you will figure out what a good deal you are really getting. Driving in most cases is more expensive than taking the airlines.

Posted by: Mike Doherty | December 28, 2011 9:26 PM    Report this comment

I have purposely avoided commercial airline travel since Christmas 2005. It's just not been worth the hassle to me to go anywhere by airline since then. The most common trip we make these days is from northern western Washington to central western Oregon. It's at least as fast to drive as take the airlines, and then we're not hemmed in by the airline's schedule, we have our car when we get there, and it costs a lot less now that there's 5 of us.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | December 29, 2011 12:14 AM    Report this comment

Okay..got the part about "pat-downs between each leg" from Jay!

And yes, Gary Hanson rightly points out, you cannot really call a laborer, in a labor union, "greedy", when it comes to banks, government regulators, and public government unions! Government people pay themselves a million dollars just to show up on time, with no expectation of doing any work!

Auto gas price or plane, the socialists are busting your chops!

Domestic oil production could allay all of this, I'm putting all the blame on the hippie-dippie politicians, and the enviros!

Posted by: Ron Brown | December 29, 2011 3:39 AM    Report this comment

Okay..got the part about "pat-downs between each leg" from Jay!

And yes, Gary Hanson rightly points out, you cannot really call a laborer, in a labor union, "greedy", when it comes to banks, government regulators, and public government unions! Government people pay themselves a million dollars just to show up on time, with no expectation of doing any work!

Auto gas price or plane, the socialists are busting your chops!

Domestic oil production could allay all of this, I'm putting all the blame on the hippie-dippie politicians, and the enviros!

Posted by: Ron Brown | December 29, 2011 3:39 AM    Report this comment

Okay..got the part about "pat-downs between each leg" from Jay!

And yes, Gary Hanson rightly points out, you cannot really call a laborer, in a labor union, "greedy", when it comes to banks, government regulators, and public government unions! Government people pay themselves a million dollars just to show up on time, with no expectation of doing any work!

Auto gas price or plane, the socialists are busting your chops!

Domestic oil production could allay all of this, I'm putting all the blame on the hippie-dippie politicians, and the enviros!

Posted by: Ron Brown | December 29, 2011 3:41 AM    Report this comment

I've flown over 2 million miles on commercial airlines and I have been a victim of the service decline to the point were I would rather drive. These are not credit card miles, these are but in the seat miles. I can tell more airline horror stories than most but I won't. I can say that for any trip less than 900 miles I will drive. When I consider the drive to the airport, time spent going through security, delays, etc, driving only takes 2 hours longer. The convenience far outweighs the hassle.

Why is the airline service so bad? I believe it's the same problem that is reducing GA flying. Fuel costs. Aviation fuel costs have increased 216% since the year 2000. Have the airline increased fares 216%? No. The airlines have had to find revenue in other ways, hence unbundling of fares.

Ask the "5 why's" Why are fuel costs so high? Government policy that penalizes producing oil in North America. Why is Government policy anti oil?Blame the green movement. They don't want you to fly, drive or live for that matter. You are polluting the Earth.

Posted by: Dana Nickerson | December 29, 2011 7:43 AM    Report this comment

Unlike many commenter's, when I retired from the military after 23 years as a Naval Aircrewman in 1993, I actually worked as a "Ramp Agent" for a contractor hired by Southwest and Alaska Air at OAK. High pay, no. Union, no. Of course union jobs at United, AA, etc. have to pay tons. Not really, especially if you live somewhere like the San Francisco Bay area.

Now I'm working for a transportation company (railroad) and need to travel 600 miles one way once or twice a year to the training center. I'd fly myself, except it's forbidden due to insurance and liability concerns. So, since the training is always Monday to Friday, I hook up my trailer, load the bags, wife and dogs on Saturday and make it a vacation (for them). And NO TSA, baggage rules changing and fees, or lost, damaged or stolen bags if you check them (ramp agent remember), plus the lower blood pressure means I just might live to retirement.

Oh, yes, I have flown commercial a few times over the last 10 years. As soon as I could, I started refusing to fly. I'd rather ride in the back of a C-141, better accommodations. But my P-3's were pure luxury.

Posted by: Jeff Pelton | December 29, 2011 8:15 AM    Report this comment

LOL, Ron, I really did mean between each leg of the flight. Spit out my coffee laughing when I read your post.

Posted by: Jay | December 29, 2011 8:28 AM    Report this comment

LOL, Ron, I really did mean between each leg of the flight. Spit out my coffee laughing when I read your post.

Posted by: Jay | December 29, 2011 8:32 AM    Report this comment

Who's fault it is is moot, it is what it is. Sadly the shill has a point. Expect less and you can minimize the pain. Buy a direct flight, or with one stop without a plane change, even if it costs more. Fly early in the day. Ship your stuff - FedEx Ground can be cost competitive, confirms delivery before you even leave, and avoids TSA going through it. Best of all it screws the airline out of the money! Embrace the screening scene in "Up in the Air". Wear no metal. Bring one small carry-on - no big laptop, no fluids, bring your own (solid) food. Bring a clear plastic bottle through screening and fill it from water fountains in the concourse. How TSA knows it's empty on the x-ray image I don't know, but they've never checked. So far I've never been back-scattered or patted down. Personally I'd opt for the pat down - your image cant be saved. So all I expect the airline to do is get me safely to my destination in most weather conditions, in a reasonable time and reasonably on time, warm and dry while I sleep, read or listen to tunes, or watch the geology below go by. With notable exceptions, they do it, safer than ever. Driving long-distance is traffic jams on narrow roads in poor condition with limited alternative routes, "flying" close formation with massive trucks and over-caffeinated, intoxicated, device-distracted, competitive drivers. I'm more wiped out by that than by sitting in airports or on airliners and am far more likely to die or be injured doing it.

Posted by: Harold Moritz | December 29, 2011 8:58 AM    Report this comment

My experiences are pretty much exactly the same... except when I fly on Southwest. Which I do about once per week. They "get it" - still no checked bag fees, the fastest (and least aggravating) boarding process in the biz, and employees who are both interested in making customers happy, and empowered to make that happen. Fares are always competitive - often downright cheap - and they have the best, least restrictive frequent flyer program I know of. Now... if they'd just remove a couple rows of seats to give everyone 2-3 more inches of legroom, it would be about as good as you could ask for.

Posted by: Brian Smith | December 29, 2011 8:58 AM    Report this comment

With a lifetime of flying privately and commercially under my belt I can compare what we now have to what we used to have, and the comparison is dismal. Flying was always an event that I looked eagerly forward to, be it on an airliner or in my Baron. Now a trip to the airport has become such a hassle I would rather drive my car. The fiasco called TSA is merely a government jobs program that has run amuck.

Posted by: Rudolf Forster | December 29, 2011 9:08 AM    Report this comment

Dana, you beat me to it. Low fuel costs allowed TWA to provide all that service Gary talked about on thirsty 707's in the 1960's and sometimes turn a profit.

I disagree strongly with Gary about the "upstarts" comment in regard to CAB regulation. Western was established in 1926, yet was denied access to HNL until 1972. Why? Retaliation for a dispute with the Kennedy administration, and probably lobbying by Juan Trippe to protect the PAA/United duopoly in that market.

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | December 29, 2011 9:19 AM    Report this comment

I agree, Brian, and with Dana on the fuel costs. For all the hype about the Dreamliner, if the seats are not made wider and the rows set farther apart, little of what Boeing did will matter to passengers. Sadly the airlines control those aspects. When they were bailed out after 9-11 (remember that bail out, where was the uproar?), Congress had an opportunity to set conditions such as these, none were imposed.

The airlines obviously do have to offset the high fuel costs, so orders are going to planes with big fuel savings, like those powered by P&W's geared turbofan, not to planes with nicer passenger amenities and modest fuel savings.

Why are fuel costs high? As a geologist, I can say it's not because we are running out (the high cost drives exploration that is finding new, but costlier, reserves), it's not cuz of eco Nazis (domestic production is booming despite them), it's not cuz of restrictive gubmint (hell, our oil industry is heavily subsidized - check to see how little net taxes they paid). It's cuz of increasing demand - Japan, Korea, Brazil, China, India, SE Asia, for example, all want more. Face it, that's where most humans live, where human population is most increasing, and where they all want our standard of living.

Posted by: Harold Moritz | December 29, 2011 9:25 AM    Report this comment

If I can avoid flying airlines, I do. At 18 miles to the gallon and with a good IFR panel, my airplane can take me most places I want to go, and get me there faster and with less hassle, and for about the same cost, as the airlines (particularly when I've got more than just myself on board). I understand what is driving fuel cost and agree with Harold, it is demand. My hope in the future is that research into electric aircraft engines will allow me to power my machine with something efficient enough to beat the airlines cost structure. We'll see what the next decade brings. Hopefully we can decouple the cost of flying from the whims of the Brent Crude marketplace.

Posted by: Amy Laboda | December 29, 2011 2:18 PM    Report this comment

All the reading and research I've done on the energy markets supports your view, Harold. Dana, the notion that environmental regulations and the green lobby are pushing production costs higher is profoundly misinformed--the fanatical ravings of whatever the opposite of an enviro-Nazi is.

The most recent price history relates to three things: The Asian financial collapse of 1998, Russian industry default around the same time and the so-called Jakarta agreement. Jakarta had the oil producing countries agreeing on quotas that were too high to begin with and with the Asian collapse, the bottom fell out of the oil market.

It was a long time recovering. But during the recovery, through about 2004, the industry radically reformed itself into giant companies (ExxonMobil, etc.) capable of taking on world-scale petroleum projects. As a result, oil became far more of a global market than it ever had been.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 29, 2011 4:23 PM    Report this comment

This was followed in short order by something no one had foreseen: strong, continuing demand from China and China's "go out" policy for becoming a player in the international markets. (All of this is detailed in Daniel Yergin's excellent The Quest.)

So if this strong global demand growth--led by China, India and Brazil--is the elephant market force impacting price in the U.S., environmental regulations are a gnat. If you don't believe that, do a little research on what's going on in the Bakken belt in North Dakota.

I'd urge you to read several of any good books on this subject, for a rounded, well-informed opinion not based on political fantasy.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 29, 2011 4:30 PM    Report this comment

Perfectly stated Paul. You are one of the more advanced souls on this planet.

Posted by: Patty Haley | December 29, 2011 5:17 PM    Report this comment

You're too kind, Patty. And I have to admit, among the many things I have been called, advanced was never on the list.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 30, 2011 4:54 AM    Report this comment

My fractional flying job requires me to be airlined to the airplane that I am assigned to fly. I consider this the worst part of my job, worse than servicing the lav tank in my airplane. The cramped seating (especially RJ's), lousy service (except Southwest), and dealing with TSA. When my wife and I went on vacation last spring, she convinced me to airline (CLE to PHX) rather than drive (36 hours). I had 2 critera when I booked the flight. No.1 non-stop flight, no.2 no RJ's. Price was not my first consideration but just so happened that Continental had a non-stop that was the cheapest. I was able to upgrade the flight to PHX to first class with my airline miles since 737-900's are the worst for comfort of any mainline jet. As far as fares are concerned they are the lowest they have ever been but keep in mind that now all of the major legacy airlines have gone bankrupt, several more than once. Where else in business can you continuously charge for a service an amount that always loses money and keep operating? Until the airlines start charging more realistic fares or the bankrupcy laws are changed nothing will change. Cheap fares are great but are you really comfortable flying on an airline knowing it was the cheapest to fly on? If airline crews were really that well overpaid (especially regionals) I would not be flying for the fractional outfit that I do now.

Posted by: matthew wagner | December 31, 2011 12:57 PM    Report this comment

American charged me only to lose my bag. Continental charged me only to lose my bag. Both airlines are now on my "do not use" list. Any flight within the USA I can beat the airlines time in my own airplane. Many I can also beat the airlines cost, especially when I have more than one traveler going. No unconstitutional TSA, no waiting in lines, no lost baggage, no way to beat it!

Posted by: John Johnson | December 31, 2011 10:12 PM    Report this comment

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