This New York Times article caught my eye first thing this morning.  Entitled “Will Airlines and Passengers Call a Truce,” the article immediately led me to think what a sad state of affairs we are in when airlines and the customers they depend on are seen as being at war with each other!  But let’s face it, we customers depend on those airlines too.  Do you really want to take Amtrak from DC to California?  Didn’t think so.

I’ve repeatedly said that I am not opposed to the concept of unbundling as long as the service now being charged for can legitimately be considered an enhancement or “plus up” to the travel experience.  Unfortunately, many of the big airlines have taken this idea and run to the moon with it, leaving no opportunity to charge for something unturned.  The finance departments at our airlines have a very easy time counting the pennies they earn from every little service they charge for.  What they can’t do very well is account for business they are no longer getting because their former customers have moved on to Southwest, JetBlue, or some other airline where they feel like they are far less likely to get screwed by some random fee.

All that said, we need a healthy, vibrant, and profitable airline industry that supports itself, provides decent jobs, and fosters commerce and the movement of people and goods in a way that only the airlines can.  The industry has continuously sold product at prices which are less than the cost of providing it, and as a result, much of the traveling public has become accustomed to the idea of flying cheap.  As those same airlines have cut services or begun charging for others that were previously “free,” the perception among travelers that they are being fleeced by the industry has only grown…..even as airfares remain at historic lows.

I suppose that if I knew how to fix this, I’d be running an airline now.  But I think at a minimum, some rationalization in fares is bound to happen.  The $99 dollar west coast specials that seem so popular are going to have to go away.  The drastic draw downs in capacity at the big airlines are already having an impact in this regard I think.  As capacity comes down even more, I think fares at the low end will begin to come up.  On the flip side, the rates that the big airlines charge for walk up fares are enormous, hardly anyone will pay them, and even offering a price like $700 $887 dollars one-way from DC to Raleigh or $1312 dollars one-way from DC to Los Angeles only reinforces the perception that the big airlines are out to get us.  Fares need to be rationalized, and the spread from top to bottom should be narrowed.

Fare rationalization is a good start.  I’ll have more ideas on repairing the relationship between airlines and customers in future posts.  In the meantime, what are some of your ideas for improving air travel?  Comments are open.  Let’s hear what you have to say.