Deregulation

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Crazy Bob Kuttner Is Hungry for a Meal…and Airline Reregulation!

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You may know Robert Kuttner as the sober co-editor of The American Prospect. Or you may recall him as the Capt. Queeg of doctrinaire liberalism who adopts the persona of "Crazy Bob," a maximum–and fearless–leader who is ready to don a fright-wig if and when the moment calls for such bold action.

But after reading this recent Boston Globe column by Kuttner, you'll think of him as the next likely perpetrator of that air rage that used to be all the rage a few years ago. But it's not just crappy service and all those Becker reruns wot's driving Crazy Bob crazy these days. It's the sheer insanity of the semi-free market that's making Kuttner pull a Shatner at 20,000 feet (plus or minus 16,000 feet):

I am writing these words at 36,000 feet, where Delta, another malefactor, no longer provides complimentary meal service on its six-hour nonstop Boston-to-Seattle route. Delta doesn't even offer meals for purchase. (On the shorter, but competitive, Boston-to-London flight, it manages to serve two.) Delta, which emerged this week from bankruptcy, pinches pennies in other ways, with sardine-like coach seats.

The other menace of today's deregulated flying experience is the crazy quilt of fares. Deregulation allows airlines to adopt any pricing scheme the traffic will bear. The object is to fill all seats, with the maximum total revenue. This is said to be economically efficient. But this chaos is not the only way of optimizing revenue. Indeed, the proof of its failure is the epidemic of airline bankruptcies. In most years since deregulation, the airlines have lost money.

Submitted for your approval: A system that allows airlines to charge different prices for tickets is not a "menace"; nor does it represent "chaos." And the deregulation of ticket prices has been a boon for travelers by cutting prices phenomenally. As the Government Accounting Office reports, since deregulation,

Airfares have fallen in real terms over time while service-as measured by industry connectivity and competitiveness-has improved slightly. Overall, the median fare has declined almost 40 percent since 1980 as measured in 2005 dollars….

However, fares in shorter-distance and less- traveled markets have not fallen as much as fares in long-distance and heavily trafficked markets. Since 1980, markets have generally become more competitive; with the average number of competitors increasing from 2.2 per market in 1980 to 3.5 in 2005.

More here. And while it's true that airline prices had started to decline before deregulation, "deregulated fares have been 10 to 18 percent lower, on average, than they would have been under the previous regulatory formulas" (more on that here).

This isn't to say everything is rosy in the friendly skies. That's partly because the deregulation was never completed (opening up airports to true competition has been painfully slow in coming, as has spinning off the air-traffic control system to a private or semi-private entity, and foreign-ownership rules means that domestic airlines aren't as competitive as they might be otherwise, etc). Flying is more like riding the bus these days, which offends snobs even as it's proof that more people can afford to fly than ever before. But Jesus H. Christ, has any policy–pushed back in the '70s by a bunch of Democrats such as Ted Kennedy, Alfred Kahn, and Jimmy Carter–been as clearly beneficial as airline deregulation (maybe the dereg of interstate trucking, which happened around the same time)?

Back to Kuttner, who among other things, bitches and moans about flyers getting discounts if they book their tickets ahead of time (as if basically every other industry doesn't do something similar): 

If you want to fly nonstop from Boston to Seattle, there's Delta . . . or Delta. The two shuttles to Washington National mysteriously charge identical, exorbitant fares. Nor are there options of price and quality. You can suffer steerage; or plunk down a month's pay and go first class.

This is simply wrong: A quick scouting of fares at Travelocity shows that, at the very least, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines offer nonstops between those Boston and Seattle (and a bunch other airlines say they offer direct service). And in any case, since when is it the birthright of Bob Kuttner or anyone else that they get direct service between any two given cities? While you're complaining, don't forget to bitch and moan about ice cream that's not fattening, too. The injustices we all suffer in this world are too great to bear! And then he says there are no options "of price and quality" immediately before complaining about the option between coach and first class. WTF? Another quick scan at Travelocity for flights from Boston to DC's National airport (leaving on May 15 and returning on May 17) show four airlines doing nonstop service for prices ranging from $371 to $449, which strikes me as a decent swing (nonstops range from $290 to $449, not including all the goddamn taxes and fees that I'm sure Kuttner is generally in favor of).

In the end, Kuttner remains a medieval thinker about prices: There is a fixed and fair price to any given good or service, independent of context, the subjective valuations of individuals, etc. Indeed, he even trots out the labor theory of value to say why it's wrong that airlines charge different prices for the "same" seat:

Fares bear little relationship to airlines' costs. In principle, it's possible that every person on the same flight was charged a different fare. Some paid less than others, not because they booked early but because they got discounts negotiated by a corporate employer. Yet it costs the airline the same to fly the passenger in seat 21A as in 21B. These corporate discount deals produce few if any economies of scale, since seats are still mostly booked one at a time. So why should different passengers be charged different fares for the same flight?

Last question first: Because different passengers will pay different prices for the same ticket.

I'm curious if Kuttner charges a fixed rate for all of his writing? If the Globe offers him, I don't know, $200 for an op-ed and someone else offers $500, does he turn down the offer that bears less relationship to his "costs"? After all, why should he charge different prices for the same op-ed (and let's be clear: he's not coming up with any original thoughts; indeed, he can't even be bothered to pull a George Jetson and hit a couple of buttons to research airfares)? Does he get more (or give more, as an editor at The American Prospect) for someone who turns in a piece overnight on a very time-sensitive subject? Yet it costs a newspaper or magazine the same to run each letter of print, doesn't it?

I fly a lot–every week, in fact. I wish airline prices were cheaper still, that the seats were bigger, the planes faster, the food better (or that there even was actual food on flights, rather than "snacks" that seem scrounged up from the backseats of a 1968 Ford station wagon). I wish that the airline industry was fully open to competition, that the government doesn't bail them out anymore, and that foreign companies can openly own controlling interests in domestic carriers (not because I hate America but because that would certainly benefit you and me). But it's not such a stretch to see that air travelers are in a much better situation now than they used to be. Or that fluctuating airfares are a sign that something is right with the world.

I'm just glad the Kuttner isn't flying the plane.

NEXT: The Nation Publishes Global Warming Denier

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  1. But Jesus H. Christ, has any policy–pushed back in the ’70s by a bunch of Democrats such as Ted Kennedy, Alfred Kahn, and Jimmy Carter–been as clearly beneficial as airline deregulation

    How about the phone deregulation? I was explaining to my son how when I was his age, “I’m on the phone long distance” trumped any request for a person’s time. Long distance phone calling was so expensive that you had to maximize efficiency when using it. My son gave me that same look he gives me when I try to explain a world where you had to get up off the couch to change the channel.

  2. The single biggest problem with air travel in the US today is that the best airlines are prohibited by law from providing service in the US. Having flown globally, it is obivious that the Europeans are excelling at providing low-cost services to destination airports and the Asians are just amazing at providing high-quality service even in coach class.

    I don’t care if the US airlines go bankrupt, so long as international airlines are allowed to come pick up the pieces.

  3. Great post Nick.

    What a rant. Complete with a laundry list of corrections at the bottom.

    Correction: Robert Kuttner’s column Friday on airline travel incorrectly described a Delta flight that did not provide meals. That flight was from New York to Seattle, not Boston to Seattle. The column also stated incorrectly that Delta has a Boston-to-London flight. It does not. Furthermore, the column stated incorrectly that Delta provides the only nonstop Boston-to-Seattle service. In fact, JetBlue and Air Alaska provide nonstops from Boston, and Delta does not.

    I really don’t care if airlines don’t serve “meals” anymore. You can always buy a sandwich at the terminal before you get on the plane.

    It costs me more to fly to Washington, D.C., than to Washington State, even though it’s less than one-sixth the distance.

    Perhaps the demand for flights to D.C. from Boston and/or NY is much greater than for flights to Washington state?

    Maybe Kuttner should check out priceline.com

    Shatner!!!!

  4. Is Kuttner wearing an eyepatch yet?

  5. Let me add another punch to the beatdown:

    Today, Boeing and Airbus offer advanced, fuel-efficient wide-body models, but today’s stripped-down airlines are more likely to fly you cross-country on an aging and cramped 737.

    Pure, unadulterated bullshit. I have flown cross-country probably 20 times in the last decade or so, and I can think of maybe one time that I was on a 737 or DC9. Almost every flight I take is on either a 757 or A320, which are considerably bigger planes.

    What I love about Kuttner’s piece is how he completely fails to indicate why he thinks re-regulation would improve service. Indeed, if airlines were restricted in their ability to set their own fares, you can bet they’d move even faster to cut costs in other areas.

    Nick basically says it, but let me reiterate–Kuttner clearly longs for the days when the great unwashed (supposedly “his” people, as a raging leftist) could not afford to fly. Undoubtedly, flying was a more genteel activity when it was restricted to the affluent. Not much of an argument for re-regulation, though.

  6. Indeed, the proof of its failure is the epidemic of airline bankruptcies.

    Sort of begging the question, isn’t he? Other than his personal gripes how exactly has deregulation failed? As Nick says, there are myriad reasons why commercial air travel is in its present state, but bankruptcies are not proof of the failure of deregulation, more like proof of organized labor’s malignant impact on the ability of a company to do business and the failure of cowardly politicians to do anything about it. But never fear, the under-funded Pension Benefit Guarantee Fund is here. I eagerly await Kuttner’s attempt to pin the impending failure of General Motors on airline deregulation as well.

    Kuttner also says it costs the airline the same to fly the passenger in seat 21A as in 21B. That is just ignorance. An airline provides a lot of services other than moving a seat between point A and point B. The cost of how the ticket is booked, the cost of boarding, the cost of luggage are all components of fares. If you really want to be picky fat people use more fuel that skinny people. Perhaps there should be a weigh-in before boarding. Fare discrimination is primarily a reflection of the economics of the risk of flying with the seat empty.

    In principle, it’s possible that every person on the same flight was charged a different fare. I don’t see why that is the slightest problem for a welfare statist. Everyone has a different tax burden for essentially the same suite of services from the federal government. The whole whine smacks of a poseur elitist who is pissed off that the masses can now use the same mode of transportation as the bourgeoisie.

  7. I can think of maybe one time that I was on a 737 or DC9

    You apparently do not frequent Northwest Airlines 😉

    jake — platnium/gold card member with NWA for 9 of the last 12 years

  8. It might be in vogue to attack Kuttner as an elitist, but it is far more likely that he is simply economically ignorant. Really, really ignorant.

  9. We have had a similar degree of deregulation in Canada, with similar results.

    Due to the change, it now costs me less, without adjusting for inflation and including all the fees and taxes that have been added, to fly from Victoria to Edmonton than it did 25 years ago. I also no longer have to change planes in Vancouver, so the journey that used to take 6 hours now takes 2 hours.

  10. Airline deregulation spurred several new, low-cost airlines. Jet Blue, for example, has become synonymous with almost miraculous prices and service. Why? They had new planes when they started with long-term service contracts with the manufacturers. Once they lapse, Jet Blue will not be able to lead the competition as it has in so many markets.

    Delta, on the other hand, is going bankrupt from management incompetence. They failed to negotiate long-term fuel contracts (i.e., hedging), they blame the pilots union for their financial mess, and can’t seem to provide the most basic customer service. Their 2 to 3 hour check-in lines are not unique in the industry except that no other airline consistently refuses to staff the check-ins like Delta. They sold the tickets, they should know about how many people are coming to the airport, even with late/cancelled flights.

    “I’m just glad the Kuttner isn’t flying the plane.”

    If you only knew the life of a Delta pilot, you might re-think this. Take any career professional, reduce his pay every year over 5 years, move him far away from his family, then see how awesome he pilots a plane.

    Delta isn’t a mess because of de-regulation. Delta is a mess because their upper management is ridiculously incompetent.

  11. The big problem is that tens of thousands of Boston Globe readers will read this crap. Are there any Boston area libertarians who are going to pen an answer? Libertarians need to refute junk economics, junk rights, junk social policy in the appropriate forums, not just here on H&R.

  12. creech, we’re too busy trying to earn a living and pay our taxes.

    The degree of economic ignorance here in Massachusetts is so high that it’s just wasted effort.

    If Sam Adams had known what his state would look like a few hundred years later, he wouldn’t have bothered rebelling.

  13. Lamars whining suggests he is or was a Delta pilot.

    He conveniently fails to mention that Delta pilots were the higest paid in the industry for years, and also have an extremely lucritive pension plan. After a 30+ percent pay cut they are STILL highly paid.

    They also fly less than 30-40 hours per month.

  14. “re there any Boston area libertarians who are going to pen an answer?”

    that does not compute. that does not compute. that does not compute. that does not compute.

    that not compute it does, hmmmmm.

    It’s a red chariot draggin my ass to hell.

  15. Something I read a while ago in the W$J (I think) has stuck with me: Airline service does not improve because Americans have shown again and again that low price is their only criterion when choosing what airline to fly on.

  16. Oh, I wish every flight was like the flight from JFK to Paris on Air France. Paris is a hole, but the flight was wonderful. Plenty of space, screens to play on, wine, cheese, bread.. what more could you want?

    I’d pay an extra $100 to fly from NY to Seattle if it could be on Air France.

    I can think of maybe one time that I was on a 737 or DC9

    America West operated by US Air (crappiest airline ever). 6 hours from Reagan to Phoenix followed by 6 hours from Phoenix to Honolulu… NEVER AGAIN!

    Oh, and re: junk economics. I echo tarran’s sentiment of trying to work to pay taxes, as I live in the Capital of New York. It’s like the capital of junk economics and political power and corruption.

  17. You apparently do not frequent Northwest Airlines 😉

    Umm, actually I do, since I typically fly to the Pacific Northwest from the DC area. And I repeat, I’m almost always on a 757 or A320. The only 737 I can recall might be when my stopover is in Detroit, since that’s a relatively short hop to/from DC.

    Of course, the 757 is no spring chicken at this point, and the planes do see more use nowadays with the quick turnarounds. The big airlines have problems, but de-regulation isn’t the culprit.

  18. JohnD:

    I’m not a pilot, never have been. Smell the salts, pal. However Delta paid their pilots 30 years ago is ancient history. They work way more hours than you suggest. Are you an airline shill?

  19. It doesn’t change the fact that air travel is a frigging nightmare! The senseless and arbitrary airport security, to the rudeness of airline staff, the tiny seats and cattle car treatment does not inspire the desire to fly, and causes me to drive or take the train for shorter trips. How in a Libertarian world, would airlines be encouraged to treat passengers better and provide adult size seating when the current market is only based on price? I am willing to pay a little more for better service and a bigger seat, though not the outrageous prices of first class, but are enough other people willing?

  20. Wake up in SeaTac.
    Wake up in Sky Harbor.
    Wake up in Love Field.
    With my build-it-yourself Chicken Cordon Bleu constructin kit. With my single-serving butter, single-serving Coffe-Mate, single-serving friends.

  21. swillfredo pareto,

    “In principle, it’s possible that every person on the same flight was charged a different fare.”

    “I don’t see why that is the slightest problem for a welfare statist. Everyone has a different tax burden for essentially the same suite of services from the federal government. The whole whine smacks of a poseur elitist who is pissed off that the masses can now use the same mode of transportation as the bourgeoisie.”

    Excellent point!

    SOT, but I believe Harlan Ellison sued and won over the Shatner Twilight Zone episode. It was found that the author had borrowed from him.

  22. Anybody who would prefer to fly a 757 or A320 instead of a 737, even an old 737 (there are plenty of new ones, by the way), is out of his mind. Getting off a full 757 from the rear of the plane, when one has to make a connection or get to a meeting, or is simply tired as hell and wnats to get some sleep, is a royal pain in the ass, when it isn’t downright infuriating. Talk to the attendents; I’ve never met one who didn’t hate flying a 757.

    The only problem with airline bankruptcies is that chapter 7 isn’t employed enough, leaving far too much of what was an unsuccessful bureaucracy in place, and allowing a business which isn’t paying it’s creditors with the chance to compete against businesses which are.

  23. southwest flies nothing BUT 737s.

  24. Lamar, who said anything about 30 years ago?

    And yeah, that’s right. Oh yeah. you caught me. I’m an airline shill. Whatever the hell that is.

    What are you besides an ignorant, whiney a-hole?

  25. de stijl, do I give you the ass or the crotch?

    I am willing to pay a little more for better service and a bigger seat, though not the outrageous prices of first class, but are enough other people willing?

    No. Plus, offering different levels of service for flying is probably a lot more expensive than for other modes of transport. (E.g. for trains, we don’t much care about security so there’s no wait at the station and little service to speak of. And it’s easy to mix and match different cars with different levels of comfort.)

  26. I’m 6’6”, and I can fly on a Southwest 737, in the middle seat, and find it tolerable. Put me on a Delta or United 737, however, and things get mighty unpleasant.

    Don’t even talk about the sort of moron who feels that a recline button on a seat gives him the contracted right to shove a seat into someone else’s knees.

  27. How in a Libertarian world, would airlines be encouraged to treat passengers better and provide adult size seating when the current market is only based on price? I am willing to pay a little more for better service and a bigger seat, though not the outrageous prices of first class, but are enough other people willing?

    The biggest answer is airport deregulation. The availability of gate space is the biggest limitation on new competitors coming into the market. The large carriers have sweetheart deals with the feds and local airport authorities to limit availability of gates.

    Also, the future lies not in stuffing maximum numbers of people into large planes to get from Cleveland to Tampa, but in air taxis that would make the aviation system more flexible and make better use of smaller airports and airfields that are currently way under-used. That would take a lot of the pressure off the bigger airports and let them be used for the higher-traffic routes.

    And don’t get me started on the nightmare that is airport security…funny, Kuttner forgot to mention that as a ‘success story’ of re-regulation.

  28. From the column:
    But real people frequently need to change their plans. They often need to book travel on short notice. Why should they be penalized for this?

    Say it with me, class:
    Because resources are scarce.

    Might want to give that unfeeling economics textbook another glance-over.

  29. Hey, I was near an Air Force Base the other day, and I saw a V-22 Osprey hovering, about a thousand feet up. I got curious, so I looked up some facts about that plane, which has been pretty much a boondoggle for most of it’s history. If they finally have made the thing a reliable aircraft, however, and the maintenance schedule isn’t too horrible, I wonder if the plane could have commercial applications. It’s current price is about 120 million a plane, but perhaps if it could be sold for non-military applications all over the world, the price could be halved, and it’s range extended.

    A plane which could carry 100 or so passengers four or five five hundred miles, and operate from large helipads, might change the market quite a bit.

  30. The only problem with airline bankruptcies is that chapter 7 isn’t employed enough, leaving far too much of what was an unsuccessful bureaucracy in place, and allowing a business which isn’t paying it’s creditors with the chance to compete against businesses which are.

    A few tweaks — Chapter 7 doesn’t necessarily mean that the company is broken up. Also, a company that goes through a chapter 11 reorg usually ends up being owned by its pre-filing creditors and has to pay its post-reorg creditors like any other company.

  31. How in a Libertarian world, would airlines be encouraged to treat passengers better and provide adult size seating when the current market is only based on price? I am willing to pay a little more for better service and a bigger seat, though not the outrageous prices of first class, but are enough other people willing?

    Ask Midwest Airlines. They offer “business class” in the whole plane, for a moderate premium, and seem to be doing OK.

  32. Yes, jp, but they can operate in bankruptcy for many, many, months.

    Can you provide some examples of corporate chapter 7s in which assets were not liquidated?

  33. You didn’t mention that in Kuttner’s world, London is evidently closer to Boston than Seattle is. At least they got out a correction that Delta doesn’t fly between Boston and London.

    “He conveniently fails to mention that Delta pilots were the higest paid in the industry for years, and also have an extremely lucritive pension plan”

    If you consider the PBGC payout lucrative, I suppose that’s true.

    “They also fly less than 30-40 hours per month”

    That’s just absolute crap. What’s your source for that statement?

    “more like proof of organized labor’s malignant impact on the ability of a company to do business”

    Care to take a guess as to which airline in the US is the most heavily unionized?

    “I don’t care if the US airlines go bankrupt, so long as international airlines are allowed to come pick up the pieces”

    They’d have to have some sort of subsidy from their home government, because most of them have costs about double that of US carriers. And the ones that don’t (like f’rinstance Ryanair) make Southwest look like first class on Singapore. In a pure unregulated market, foreign carriers would become more like our domestic ones, not the other way around.

  34. Flying sucks. Give me the Intertubes or flying cars now, please.

    That said, the best flight that I ever experienced was on Malaysia Air, where I swear they had servants for every ten passengers. And they served sushi! It would’ve been more fun if I hadn’t been stuck in a plane that was flying over a typhoon while the Chinese and U.S. Navies were hoping to accidentally shoot down a civilian airliner (this was the week that Hong Kong reverted back to China). All while watching movies like Beverly Hills Ninja. No man should have to die in such circumstances.

  35. I got on Lexis-Nexis and queried articles about airfares from 1980. The first article I found talks about CAB setting “supersaver” airfares between NY and LA at $538 during the week and $621 on the weekend (slightly higher to SFO) and it probably doesn’t include taxes. By comparison, I can buy a first class fare between NY and LA for $1161 at the end of May, and an economy ticket for $309.

    When you consider that $621 in 1980 is worth $1548 in 2007, that’s pretty good support for deregulation.

  36. “Is tomorrow just a day like all the rest.”
    How could you know just what you did?
    So full of faith yet so full of doubt I ask.
    Time and time again you said don’t be afraid.
    “If you believe you can do it.”
    The only voice I want to hear is yours.
    Again.
    I shall ask you this once again.
    And again.
    He said:
    ” I am but one small instrument.”
    Do you remember that?
    So here I am above palm trees so straight and tall.
    You are smaller, getting smaller.
    But I still see you.

    –Jimmy Eat World, “Goodbye Sky Harbor”

  37. Yeah, people fail to understand that Southwest is unionized, and turns a profit every year. They have a superior business model, better management, better union leadership, and better employees.

  38. All good comments–reasonoids rock this one!
    Air trafic control has not been brought up-still using radar instead of satellite guidance. Still unionized–they have employees who carry bits of paper with data from terminal to terminal, cannot utilize the computers email instead…all kinds of unnecessary cancels and delays…

  39. Umm, actually I do, since I typically fly to the Pacific Northwest from the DC area. And I repeat, I’m almost always on a 757 or A320. The only 737 I can recall might be when my stopover is in Detroit, since that’s a relatively short hop to/from DC.

    You get to fly from one metropolitan area to another.

    I get to fly from a small, midwest community into either Minneapolis or Detroit. When I an not stuck on a turboprop going into to the hub, I am on one of the 100+ antique DC9s that NWA owns.

    Fortunately, they started to retire them and replace with A320s in the last year or so. But the DC9 is still a common sight in my neck of the woods.

    Now the A330 from Detroit to Amsterdam is a lovely plane, and the new refurbished B747s heading over to Japan are quite nice as well.

  40. This guy lost me after he complained about not getting any meal service. Anyone who complains about that should be locked in a room for a week and be forced to actually eat it.

  41. “They also fly less than 30-40 hours per month”

    “That’s just absolute crap. What’s your source for that statement?”

    Gentleman, gentleman…..

    Here are max’s. Minimums depend on airline, senority, etc…

    http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=53f0bfec10258f94679101654026a3ab&rgn=div8&view=text&node=14:2.0.1.4.19.17.11.2&idno=14

  42. Sal:

    The meal, or the room?

  43. Ahem. [Deep breath]:

    Khhhaaaaaaaaaaaannnnn!

    Khhhaaaaaaaaaaaannnnn!

  44. Kuttner’s article is just a rant, a scattershot attack on a reasonably complicated subject.

    It is notoriously difficult to price a service with large fixed costs, perishable supply, and diverse demand. The marginal cost of filling the last seat in a plane is near zero in terms of fuel and snacks. If you don’t sell it ahead of time, you lose the chance to sell it. And you don’t know the effect of season, weather, personal plans and preferences. All this is well known.

    But I think the real reason Kuttner has a problem with this is that flying is still expensive. You can usually get a comfortable seat in a restaurant whether it is McDonalds or the Four Seasons. You can choose food from a long menu. But on an airplane adding inches in seat width or leg room means leaving passengers behind. And you can’t provide a food court on a 737.

    When we book a flight most of us mostly look for the least cost flight. But then we are unhappy that we are crammed close together for several hours, with little choice of food or other amenities. We feel like we would pay more for a better experience, but we are not really willing to pay enough more to make the plane more comfortable — it is too expensive. So instead we just bitch about everything.

  45. R C Dean,

    I can highly recommend MidWest’s larger seats. My girlfriend and I have body types that the uncharitable would call “fat,” and flying MidWest has turned our trips from a hellish nightmare into an opportunity to relax and read. We don’t shop for flights based on price alone, at least not anymore.

  46. Air trafic control has not been brought up-still using radar instead of satellite guidance. Still unionized–they have employees who carry bits of paper with data from terminal to terminal, cannot utilize the computers email instead…all kinds of unnecessary cancels and delays…

    Radar doesn’t depend on aircraft equipment to show the location of an airplane. Though transponders do add information and signal strength, primary returns can provide location information when the transponders fail (or are intentionally disabled). Using runners to hand off paper slips between controllers may be ready for replacement by electronic messaging, but only if the electonic messaging is completely robust.

    Be careful when putting your life in the hands of computers- they tend to fail at the most inopportune times.

  47. A lot of airlines are distinctly different on international routes than on domestic. Every right-minded Canadian loathes Air Canada based on their domestic flights, but their Calgary-Frankfurt flight was a lot nicer than the follow-up Frankfurt-Abu Dhabi leg on Lufthansa. Same for Northwest – Detroit-Amsterdam was a lot nicer than Dulles-Detroit. Continental is great transatlantic. IMO, American, Delta and United all suck more or less uniformly.

    Best of all, a bunch of Gulf Petrostates are starting airlines that aren’t expected to turn a profit for years, so I can now fly Abu Dhabi – JFK direct, thus avoiding the black hole known as Heathrow, or the double-digit layovers at Schiphol. And for less money too.

    Best ever treatment = Cathay Pacific, Vancouver-HK. Wow.

  48. We don’t shop for flights based on price alone, at least not anymore.

    I used to price the Comfort Class seating on American at $50. That is, if American cost less than $50 more than the cheapest competitor on a particular flight, I would choose American for the extra legroom.

    Unfortunately, there were not enough of me, and they got rid of Comfort Class.

  49. How in a Libertarian world, would airlines be encouraged to treat passengers better and provide adult size seating when the current market is only based on price?

    Common misconception: That market economics suggests that consumption of goods is only based on price.

    The ultimate answer to your question is that people just need to get fed up with flying as sardines. Since there isn’t really an alternative to flying for traveling cross-country, and people generally choose between airline carriers by price because there’s limited availability of choice of carrier due to which airports you’re going to, we’re very limited as to the terms of competition.

    It would be nice if there was some standard measurement of comfort for airlines so that people knew if they paid more, they’d get better service. But the fact of the matter is that most people see flying as a uniform good (it’s going to be the same no matter which one you choose), which therefore means their choices are based mostly on price. What it would take is for an airline to come out and differentiate themselves from the competition through advertisement or some measurable benefit that the passenger would be assured they would realize. That’s just not really happening right now.

  50. [putting on Guy Montag hat]

    Of course, Fonzi immigrant-lover peacenik Gillespie won’t blog this

    Six Men Arrested in Plot to Attack US Army Base in New Jersey

    Get this hat off me! It burns! It burns!
    [Runs off screaming]

  51. BTW, nothing wrong with new 737’s. Lots better than the CRJ-900’s some airlines are using for 3-hour flights these days.

  52. Best flight leg (during one of the worst total flights) . . .

    Got to ride one of the new A340-500s at Singapore Airlines direct from LA to Singapore (16 1/2 hour flight). Unfortunately, that was after NWA screwed up my connection in Minneapolis and had to send me to LA to connect to SIA.

  53. so instead we just bitch about everything.

    And that, at least, costs nothing.

    To me, the hassle of airport security is worse than the actual flight experience.

  54. “Every right-minded Canadian loathes Air Canada based on their domestic flights”

    The last five words are unnecessary.

    The Frankfurt runs from Western Canada are higher quality because People’s Democratic Airline shares with Lufthansa on those routes & Germans won’t put up with the crappy service that People’s Democratic Airline normally offers.

  55. But Jesus H. Christ, has any policy–pushed back in the ’70s by a bunch of Democrats such as Ted Kennedy, Alfred Kahn, and Jimmy Carter–been as clearly beneficial as airline deregulation (maybe the dereg of interstate trucking, which happened around the same time)?

    I note that the point person on those issues for the Democrats was Stephen Breyer, who of course is now on the Supreme Court.

  56. I second the goodness of Detroit-Amsterdam on NWA. Of course, then you have to spend hours and hours at Schiphol.

    KLM from Amsterdam-Abu Dhabi is way better now that they have A330s running the route instead of antiquated (and shit-smelling) 767s.

    Best service: Etihad from Abu Dhabi-Gatwick or Manchester. ‘Course then you have to deal with the clusterfucks that are UK airports.

    Should be interesting to see how Delta’s return to Dubai goes at the end of the month. ATL-Dubai direct is sure appealing (except for the fact that I’d have to fly in to the 7th Circle of Hell known as Hartsfield-Jackson.

  57. JohnD:

    “30 Years ago” is when deregulation started. I’ve limited my observations to this time period. Now you know a little more about the airline industry.

    Delta pilots may have been highly paid, but they took a 30% pay cut. Their inability to turn a profit isn’t based on pilot pay. It’s a quick soundbite that resonates but means nothing. Also, you are also not figuring in the lower paid Delta shuttle pilots, and failing to consider that most of Delta’s non-flight personell are non-union and average below the industry average. Now you know a little more about the industry.

    The vast majority of Delta and Delta shuttle pilots fly more than 40 hours a month, and they work much, much more than that. Don’t forget that a pilot has the lives of 200 passengers in his hands when the plane goes through that microburst. Look it up if you don’t know what it is.

    Who I am shouldn’t matter. I probably am a whiney a-hole. I also apparently know more about the airline industry, but it’s hard to tell since you have said NOTHING substantive or meaningful. I specialize in the energy sector, and the airline industry is all over energy consultants. My assessment is, for the most part, independent of personal feelings.

    Deregulation seems to have helped in many areas, but incompetent management can negate the benefits of any positive step. JohnD: how has Delta’s management been good? I laid out three areas of incompetence (I didn’t even think about the Song fiasco). What’s your case?

  58. Most airlines in Europe are like the US airlines in that EU operations (like domestic operaitons in the US) are nothing like the international/intercontinental operations. NWA intercontinental and Asia is just about as good as any other European airline I have taken.

    Intercontinental operations from Asian carriers, on the other hand, is in a class of its own

  59. Timon19:

    I agree that the 767’s are old and busted.

    ATL ain’t a bad airport. Better conceived and operated than, say, Dulles, JFK, DFW or (UGGGHH) O’Hare. I’ve never had a major beef with ATL, it’s probably my least unfavorite US airport after Denver or Pittsburgh.

    I hate Dubai, but that has more to do with getting to and from the airport. The last mile of road can take an hour sometimes.

    Etihad AUH-JFK was fantastic when the plane actually got off the ground, multiple hours late.

    I’m flying from Sharjah to Kathmandu on Air Arabia in a couple of months, so I get to test out the Arab version of the discount airline. I’ve heard mixed reviews.

  60. Southwest Airlines has plenty of new 737’s and Europe’s RyanAir has alot of 737’s on order. They’re more efficient than the original 737’s and they’re fairly cheap to produce. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the design, its just that the old school airlines tended to cram too many seats in them and the air recycling/pressurization system of the old ones is nowhere near as good as the new ones (though they could retrofit the planes like Southwest has done).

    Airlines meet customer requirements. And I’d rather spend 5 hours on a stopover Southwest flight than 3.5 hours on a direct Delta flight if it saves me money and keeps me comfotable. Thus, I’m encouraging Southwest to NOT make kill their legroom or raise their fares. In return, I give them the flexibility of moving people around more efficiently than hub&spoke.

  61. I haven’t flown Singapore Airlines in a long time, but I always appreciated free Remy Martin in coach on the Tokyo-L.A. route. In fact, Singapore was always the best when I used to fly to Asia a lot, and I always was in coach. Hot or cold towels, depending on the weather, to refresh oneself with upon getting in one’s seat. A variety of newspapers offered, in a variety of languages. Of course, a cocktail order taken, and delivered prior to take-off, for free. Good food.

    These days, I feel like Ray Liotta, at the end of Goodfellas, who, after a life of being treated like a demi-god when he was connected, goes into witness protection, and becomes a schnook like everybody else, right down to having to eat marinara sauce that tastes like ketchup.

  62. I’ll probably never be able to convince the company to get me on the JFK-AUH or YYZ-AUH. But arrival in Dubai isn’t that big of a deal, especially when the Rotana in Abu Dhabi picks you up and whisks you across the desert in the middle of the night.

    So I may just hit up the ATL-DXB on Delta (since I can get the miles applied to my NWA account, it’s especially attractive).

    I’m rather amused that Sharjah even has their own airline. Christ, at this rate, Umm-al-Quwain will have their own as well. My guess is that even with the oil subsidies, a number will go out of business in the Gulf region in time.

  63. Timon: let me know next time you’re in town. I live just down the road from the Beach Rotana, and I’m always up for an evening in the Brauhaus. Or Friday brunch at Rosebud’s. (E-mail addy attached to this message is a working one.)

    BTW, RAK now has its own airline, and apparently there exists an Air Fujairah. Still awaiting Ajman Airlines, though 🙂

  64. My problems with Atlanta are mostly related to the fact that it is a Delta hub. On three occasions, when I lived in Charleston, SC, I was supposed to connect in Atlanta, and Delta’s partner had operations so fouled up on the short routes that I finally demanded my money back, rented a car, and made the five hour drive home.

  65. I may be coming to an emirate near you within weeks. Stay tuned. I’ll drop you a line when I get access back to my home e-mail address, time permitting.

    The Brauhaus is heaven in an otherwise hell-like environment.

    What freaky business has you going from Sharjah to freakin’ Nepal?

    RAK has a fucking airline? I must have missed that when I was there in January. I suspect Ajman Airlines would have to use their entire emirate as a runway.

  66. Nepal is vacation, not business. Looking forward to bending an elbow with ya.

  67. Can you provide some examples of corporate chapter 7s in which assets were not liquidated?

    Here’s one: Read-Rite filed a Chapter 7 case in Oakland, California, on June 17, 2003, and the trustee successfully sold the business as a going concern on July 24, 2003. (“Western Digital Gets Read-Rite,” The Deal, July 25, 2003.) These are rare, but there’s nothing in chapter 7 requiring a company to be broken up. Similarly, a large company with multiple divisions could sell a whole division as a going concern in chapter 7.

  68. jp, that’s interesting. Why would Read-Rite go 7? Were they surprised to find a buyer?

  69. Right after deregulation, I had the joy of going to school in Dallas. Southwest had a student standby fare of $10 each way from Love Field. Flights to New Orleans were cheaper than dinner.

  70. What Kuttner’s rant really proves, in addition to the fact that his grasp of economics is exceeded by Teddy Kennedy,* is that capitalism, despite all the sweet talk from Adam, Milton, and Fredrich, is fairly alien to the human mind. It is quite “natural” for people to think that a commodity or service has a “natural” value or price and that it is immoral to charge too much for it, particularly when I want to buy some.

    We see this demonstrated whenever the price of gasoline goes up a quarter. Some of this is pure hypocrisy–not many people sell their homes on the basis of what they paid for it rather than what the market will bear–but a lot of it goes back to the kind of tribal thinking for which we are semi-hard-wired. Despite Adam’s jive, capitalism is only distantly related to the “natural” human propensity to barter, truck, and trade.

    *I guess this means that Teddy drunk is smarter than Kuttner sober.

  71. Don’t even talk about the sort of moron who feels that a recline button on a seat gives him the contracted right to shove a seat into someone else’s knees.

    Fuck you, get an aisle seat.

  72. oooh! The entry level traveler talks tough! oooh!

  73. I don’t know about anyone else who’s a frequent traveler, but when I’m in cattle class, even being as tall as I am, I never use the recline button. It barely does anything. It increases my comfort level approximately 0.01% at best.

    I don’t get it.

  74. Timon19,

    No kidding, I was reading some article on a flight to Tokyo (via Northwest Airlines)–I think it was in Time or Newsweek–that said that the chairs that Soviet torture specialist used for sleep deprivation were set at exactly the same angle as airline seats in the reclined position. I totally believe that.

  75. “Of course, then you have to spend hours and hours at Schiphol.”

    There is a freakin’ CASINO in the transit area of AMS. What’s not to like about that!

    CB
    Disclaimer: Retired from Delta in 2004 after 26 1/2 years. Loved Delta before Ron Allen. Dave Garrett was the last good CEO. Bankrupty caused by several factors including: bad management… and pilot wages.

    All of you who say “I would pay more for better seats/meals/service/anything” are… wrong. No you wouldn’t. Air service is, in fact, a commodity, and therefore, completely price-driven.

  76. There is a freakin’ CASINO in the transit area of AMS. What’s not to like about that!

    What’s better is watching Arabs try to sneak peeks at the unwrapped hard-core porn in the magazine shop without their wives seeing them.

  77. I did pay more for a better seat once — I was on my way home from a business trip and ponied up about $200 (plus miles?) for a business class seat. didn’t expense the upgrade or anything, I just deserved it. I also got a crappy massage in the airport on my layover. I may have been drunk at the time.

  78. But Jesus H. Christ, has any policy–pushed back in the ’70s by a bunch of Democrats such as Ted Kennedy, Alfred Kahn, and Jimmy Carter–been as clearly beneficial as airline deregulation (maybe the dereg of interstate trucking, which happened around the same time)?

    The Staggers Rail Act. I’m a rail buff.

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