Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More Less Than Friendly Skies

As much as I am a firm believer in the golfer having to pay extra for taking along his clubs when he flies to Myrtle Beach, there are other aspects of the growing problems for air travelers that I find troubling. The Times today had story about smaller cities that are rapidly losing passenger service as fuel costs continue to rise. The airlines say that they can't afford to provide service, even with the Essential Air Service subsidies. As a rule, I'm skeptical of these sorts of claims by Corporate America—unless it's a guaranteed cash cow, C.A. will always say it's too expensive to get involved in a smaller market—but I know that on none of the flights I've taken to one of these airports has there been enough people to even warrant the small aircraft we used. Many of these airports are served by smaller airlines partnered with a larger carrier; these lean and mean companies with lower overhead and costs than the major carriers are still saying that the costs are just too prohibitive—and given how many small businesses are struggling in our current economy, I trust them when they say they can't make it work (as opposed to C.A., which would have us believe that anything less than unbelievably obscene profits are the same as losses—yes, I'm talking about you, Exxon).

So what's the solution? I really don't know. I can't see petroleum getting less expensive, so until we can run airplanes on some other kind of fuel, the costs of air travel are just going to keep going up. I don't see more subsidies as a very good solution, either; I don't mind paying a little more in taxes to help out someone else, but that's a short term approach, at best. As I've said recently, I'd love to see at least part of the answer be building a bigger, better and faster rail network: it won't erase the problem since trains need fuel, too, but they use a lot less of it to move a lot more people around. For the time being, though, I expect we'll just see more people driving a couple of hours or more to get to the nearest larger airport.

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