Airlines: Do they deserve the criticism?

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The airlines--my opinion. Undeserved criticism, with a caveat.

The airlines are much maligned these days. Everyone seems to resent crowding, poor service, delays, and make the airlines the culprit. I would be the first to criticize any large company for abusing the public, but in this case, I do not think the airlines deserve the rap.

I go to Florida often. I pay between $300-350 for each round trip ticket. I went to Florida often 25 years ago. I was paying $250-300. A 20% increase in 25 year is not unfair. Crowding? Sure, the flights were a bit less crowded then (it seems today every flight if full), yet what should they do? Take fewer reservations? Increase legroom for all seats? If they did they would have to charge more, obviously. Delays, no more than in days past. They cannot control the weather, which has wrecked havoc on the airlines this new year of 2014.

The airline industry has been one of the most unprofitable US industries in the past two decades. First 9-11, which caused them losses it took them years to recover from. Then a horrible spike in oil prices. Then more and more regulation to cope with. The average stockholder return for US airlines is, as I recall reading, lower than any other major industry. Let’s give these guys a chance to make a buck in the next few years, in return for the amazingly safe transportation, new planes (now with wi-fi existing or coming), and easy on-line booking.

But before I end my praise of the airline industry, I do have one complaint. They have gutted the frequent flier programs. My airline, United, used to upgrade me regularly. Now no more. They give away the unoccupied seats to those paying higher fares than I do, I guess. They do not give me a straight answer. And goodbye to preferred boarding. I used to board with 10-15 people. Now 50-80 people are in the same line as a result of giveaways and credit card offers.

I am not so sure the recent mergers will be good for consumers. There are now three dominant airlines in the US. Those like me near a great airport, Newark, are stuck with United for its convenience. They know that the frequents like me cannot go elsewhere, so they have no fear of dismantling their frequent flier programs. Bad luck for me. Hopefully our great capitalist system will cause more new and existing airlines to start to compete with the big boys, and things will get a little better for us frequents, and everyone else if possible. For those who fly occasionally, it is still a good deal.