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Marketplace Scratch Pad

Staying grounded

Scott Jagow Oct 23, 2009

The airlines are increasing fares once again. Most of them upped tickets another $10 this week. It’s the fifth industry-wide hike this year. Yet another reason to take the bus.

Reuters concludes this fare hike might be a sign of new airline pricing power:

“The bottom line is that we hit the bottom and it’s starting to come off the bottoms, and pricing power is shifting,” Seaney said. “The pendulum is shifting away from the consumer and back into a neutral position.”

Eh, I’m not buying it, yet. First of all, the airline industry is divided into two camps — those making profits and those that aren’t. The companies losing money are the ones raising fares. Southwest and Airtran have not matched this latest hike.

Secondly, the airlines say they’re seeing signs of increased demand. I’d like proof that the higher loads aren’t mostly about airlines offering fewer flights. Although I don’t have hard evidence myself, the people I know are flying much less right now.

Airfarewatchdog is doing its own unscientific poll today:

Airfarewatchdog believes that a lot of people aren’t flying because, to put it bluntly, flying is a big PITA. If air travel were a better experience, we believe, more people would take to the skies, even at higher fares. But, of course, improving the product will cost money that the airlines don’t have and we’d all have to pay higher taxes to fix our antiquated air traffic control system.

Among the comments:

“By the time I drive to the airport, find a parking space, get to the terminal, then go through the ridiculous inspections, I have wasted 3 hours. I can drive to Las Vegas in six hours and arrive way before my flight. Is there something wrong with this picture? You bet there is. People should completely stop flying on trips of anything less than 1000 miles.”

But others have stopped flying simply because it’s an uncomfortable experience. “Airlines have crammed more seats into their flying aluminum cans,” one reader laments. Another gripes that seats are “as thin as cardboard” and that he has taken to riding the bus for trips of less than four hours. “The bus seats are much more comfortable and the travel time is comparable. I also get to see a bit of the country side and I’ve yet to have a bus fail to leave the terminal on time.”

You flying less? Or willing to pay more if the experience was better?

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