Southwest and the Airtravel Realities We’re Ignoring

Steve reminds us why we love our readers by penning a nice and cogent op-ed on why “the current low fares are going to run one or two of the legacy carriers into liquidation.”

Furthermore, “we all need to realize that we cannot expect that flight to Minneapolis is cheaper than the cost of driving.”

Preach it, brother, after the jump…

Southwest is clearly the model for both operating a profitable airline and providing appropriate customer service. Unfortunately, this model is only possible by starting from scratch and limiting the scope of service.

As a former “road warrior” (shiver), I would always choose Southwest whenever possible. While the frequent flyer program is great, the loyalty came from a working with a service provider that actually got me where I need to go on time most of the time with staff that seem to care [for] their customers. I could not take Southwest all the time and had to take a legacy carrier to get to places outside Southwest’s routes. Southwest will never fly to Fargo; it does not work within the model.

This is the problem, the legacy carriers are based on a model that does not allow for the level of price competition that is the signature of the current airline industry and is driven by the non-legacy carriers (SWA, JetBlue, AirTran, etc.). The legacy carriers have thousands of flights a day that simply do not pay for themselves. They somehow think they are going to get out of their financial problems by nickle and dimeing their customers, but the hole is too deep and they will only further alienate the frequent customers that may have actually cared if the airline survives.

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To finally get to my main point, an airline cannot be run at a loss. Prices need to rise on non-competitive routes and routes with non-legacy competition need to be run as break-even or cut. The current low fares are going to run one or two of the legacy carriers into liquidation, which is going to involve massive costs directed to taxpayers and the larger economy. People are going to have to change the mind set that air travel is almost always affordable to almost everywhere. We need not go back to a pre-deregulation mind set of airline travel being something special, but we all need to realize that we cannot expect that flight to Minneapolis is cheaper than the cost of driving.

Thanks for the chance to vent. This has been bothering me for years. By the way, the airlines will not change. One or two will disappear and prices will increase in the void.

Steve