The economics of air travel

I’m planning a short trip without the wife and the rest of the pack which is what moved me to think about this subject.

I don’t know of anyone who takes a commercial flight for the fun of it. We’ll only use a commercial flight if it’s faster or more convenient, not tremendously more expensive than driving, or the experience is sufficiently hassle-free that you arrive at your destination less frazzled than you would have been had you driven.

The experience of air travel changed years ago. Once upon a time when you flew it was actually a fairly pleasant experience. You were greeted by a young, attractive, pleasant stewardess when you boarded. You received the impression that your business was welcomed. People dressed to fly (I still do). On even the shortest flight you were given a minimally palatable snack (or a meal on flights of 500 miles or more). The plane generally departed and arrived on time.

Those days are gone. Nowadays when flying you’re treated as an inconvenience by the cabin service personnel. You frequently depart and arrive late. Your fellow passengers are sloppy and behave worse. Even the peanuts are gone.

Travel by air today is like a Greyhound Bus. Except Greyhound Busses depart on time.

With the latest set of security restrictions let’s consider a flight of say, 300 miles. Using a per mile cost of, say, $.50 per mile the direct cost of driving would be $150. It would take you roughly 6 hours.

The flight would have a direct cost of roughly $120 (there’s also parking to consider). A drive to the airport takes, what, a half hour to an hour. Say an hour. You arrive three hours before your flight. The flight itself takes roughly an hour. You get your luggage (if any), pick up a car (another expense), and drive to your destination, say another hour. The expense would be something like $200 and the time expended would be roughly 6 hours.

For the convenience of air travel you’ve paid more money, taken as much or more time, and been repeatedly abused.

Short-haul commercial passenger air travel is dead.

5 comments… add one
  • James Jennings Link

    I travel frequently for business, and I have come to the same conclusion as you – it is cheaper and takes less time to drive than to fly for any place about seven hours driving time away or less. Fortunately, I live on the US East Coast near Philadelphia, so many of the places that I am likely to go to meet this criteria.

  • I’m pretty sure I”m done with flying.

  • ZF Link

    Southwest has said for 30 years that it competes (more or less effectively depending on the price of gas, etc.) primarily vs driving – so this is hardly news to the airline industry.

    As far as nostalgia for a time when air travel was exciting goes, I hate to pass this along, but what that shows is your age; the younger generation have never felt that way. It is to their unalterable perception that the airline industry has conformed over time.

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