What is/was airline deregulation?

I’ve heard it cited many a time as a crucial reason why airline travel was so hellish even before 9/11. But I don’t know what the term means. Anybody?

Other thread:


Other site:

Thank you!

And how did I end up posting this in GD when I meant it for GQ? :smack:

Since we’re in GD anyway,

… Exactly what about airline travel is “Hellish,” anyway? This year alone I have flown in and out of: Dallas (twice), BWI, Logan, O’Hare (twice), Sky Harbor, LAX, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta (3 times), Minnesota (twice), Denver, Orange County, Little Rock, and at least half a dozen others I can’t remember, plus in Canada I practically live in Toronto-Pearson and have been in and out of Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Regina, Montreal, Halifax, and Saint John. I didn’t see anything “hellish.” Most places seem pretty effiicent. The only problems I’d had were with Delta, since their planes are always two hours late, but that’s them, not air travel in general.

Since the thread is about deregulation, what the hell?

Once upon a time you could walk up to an airline ticket counter, buy a ticket and get on the next flight. From there you walked directly to the gate, showed your ticket to the agent and walked on the plane. In fact, announcements made throughout the terminal alerted you to the fact that the flight was boarding, giving you time to get to the gate.

When you boarded a plane, a polite flight attendent would offer you a choice of cigarettes or chewing gum and either get you something to drink right away or take your order for later.

All except the shortest flights had meal service. Usually, the meals were served hot, on real dishes, with real cutlery.

When the flight landed, some airports would simply unload your luggage, and you’d claim it right on the tarmac. At others, workers would put the luggage through a little door, which opened on to a conveyor belt, from which you’d retrieve it. At that point, you could connect to another flight, or simply get a ride home.

Airlines could provide that level of service because they were tightly regulated. The government told them where they could fly, when they could fly, and how much they could charge for a ticket. Naturally, a profit margin was built in.

Then came deregulation. Without a built-in profit margin, airlines became intent on maximizing revenue. They began to add or delete cities from their schedules. They initiated hub and spoke systems where passengers flying from one city to another would have to change planes at a thrid city.

The firendly travel agent who had all your information on file and could make all the arragements for you saw her commission cut further and further, until she got out of the business.

With wide-open competition, airlines began focusing on adding flights to the most in-demand cities at the most in-demand times. That led to phenomena like 130 flights scheduled to depart from O’Hare airport in Chicago between 5 and 6 p.m., when the airport management and air traffic controllers insisted that amount of traffic was impossible to handle. They were right, and numerous delays and backups resulted.

Then security was tightened. One could no longer simply buy a ticket for the next flight, or show up as the flight was boarding. Checkin lines began consuming more and more travel time. Your family and friends could no longer accompany you to the gate, and had to meet you outside of a security zone. Eventually security got so tight that inspectors looked through your vehicle on the way in, and you had to have your shoes sniffed before you could enter the plane.

Hellish? Not compared to life in a refugee camp. But not as pleasant as 25 years ago, either.

You can still get that fantastic and un-hellish flying experience - just travel first class.

What deregulation has done is allow a competitive and nearly free market to fight for passengers. What has become “hellish” is the fact that coach air travel is so incredibly cheap now (compared with inflation-adjusted cost of a ticket in the days of regulation) that the masses are taking advantage of it. The resulting influx of exponentially larger amounts of travellers has caused a big change in the way airlines must operate in order to get the maximum numbers of passengers to the maximum numbers of destinations safely.

But if you’re willing to pay some extra buckage, you can still get a first-class experience. Join a “Gold Member’s” club or some such, and the experience within the airport can be just as pleasant.

That’s because 25 years ago, commercial flying was for the well-to-do. The masses couldn’t afford it. So flying was like going to an upper-class restaraunt - you paid a big premium for premium service.

What deregulation did was lower the cost of flying so that the average person could afford to fly on a regular basis. That made it more like riding the bus than taking a limo. When the masses are flying for cut-rate fares, you just can’t afford the velvet gloves treatment.

Damned good thing. You don’t hear poor people complaining that the quality of airline service has gone down, because prior to deregulation those people never flew at all. Deregulation was a huge boon to the lower and middle classes.

25 Years ago? I think you guys are older than you realize. :slight_smile: What you’re describing is more like what things were like 40 years ago.-- ie, the 1960s, not the 1980s.

Well… 1970’s.

Damn, I’m getting old.

I knew someone was going to call me on the 1980s part. OK, next month we can say 25 years ago was the 1980s.

Deregulation is when they stopped forcing airlines to serve actual food to passengers.

In any case, the official airline-dereg law was passed during the Carter administration, in '78. But already by then there were signs that things were moving away from poshness – domestic airlines had already taken out the “lounges” from their planes and filled the space with seats, for instance. The hijack wave of the early 70s had already led to the establishment of the security checkpoints.

Anyway, deregulation allowed us to find out that the public felt that what they really, really wanted was $89.99 fares to L.A., not comfort or style. Upstanding citizens headed to the coast to visit family or to golf, suddenly discovered they were spiritual kin to backpacking college kids laying over in Keflavik. The paradoxical part of it is that, in catering to this demand for cheap tickets, the major airlines are hemorrhaging money.

As to air travel being “more hellish”, what is happenning is that certain “small comforts” that had sort-of survived the first decade-or-two of deregulation, to the point they seemed a ray of hope that the airlines would not just come right out and decalre themselves to be in the cattle-hauling business, have more recently ALSO gone away. 2 examples:

Travel Agent commissions and therefore the TA herself, she who could book your entire trip in such a way as to fit you on a one-stop shop and who could be called on to solve a problem arising while under way. Sure, booking online direct is economically more advantageous for the carriers… but the anonymity is annoying to many travelers.

Food. Look, it was lousy since forever, but now, if the flight is scheduled for less than 3 hours, you are likely to be advised to brown-bag it.
Or the “meal” will be a microwavable calzone-in-an-envelope, which is to laugh.

Maybe it was unreasonable to think some things were to be counted on. But it annoys people nonetheless.

One thing that had been a major pain of dereg but has of late improved in some cases was the replacement of service by the Major Carrier with service by the commuter carrier affiliate. The felicitous part being the introduction of the RJ-class mini-jets, and that the public, not for entirely rational reasons, is happier flying jet than prop, no matter how safe and reliable the prop plane may be. OTOH this is a problem for some smaller communities because an RJ needs almost as much runway as the lighter regular-size airliners, and if the major commuter carriers all switch to RJs, then the small boonie towns either have to rebuild their fields or depend on small-time carriers.

The eternal construction and parking nightmare around the airport (anyone here near a major airport that has ever in the last 20 years NOT had some part of the terminal or the parking under construction?) is not the fault of the airline but of Ports Authorities failing to correctly project their needs. But it adds to the upset.

Does anyone have a price comparison between the cost of an airline ticket before deregulation and the cost of a first-class ticket now? What services did each of them get you?

That’s true. I’m barely old enough to remember an ad for some kind of laundry detergent that had a woman saying, “We went on vacation, and my kids got their good clothes filthy! But Brand X got them so clean they could wear them on the plane home!

You absolutely HAD to dress up to fly. Well, you had to dress up for most everything, but still. Nowadays, unless circumstances demand that you look your best from the moment you get off the plane, you wear your grubbies, because flying is just as stressful as taking the bus.

You are also encouraged to dress in confortable/loose fitting clothes nowadays, such as a sweatsuit if you are prone to blood clots, to prevent disease (in the classical sense = dis-ease) or death from the close quarters usually found in economy class seating.

Of course, the other part of kunilou’s story is that apparently back then there was no security check. Somehow I doubt security checks are a result of deregulation.

I still don’t see what’s hellish about it. As Sam and Wrath have pointed out, you can still pay pre-deregulation fares to get hoity-toity service. I don’t think you can understate the ENORMOUS impact on fares; you can now fly across the country - hell, across an OCEAN - for a price that in 1974 wouldn’t have gotten you inside the terminal.

And overall, I don’t find the experience unpleasant. Maybe it’s because 50% of my flights are on Air Canada, who are pretty good these days at being on time, and now that I. I really don’t see how such a gigantic mass of civilians could be transported around on planes in any more efficient a manner, leaving Delta Airlines (Company motto: “We’re always two hours late, but we don’t understand why our planes are two thirds empty and we’re going bankrupt!”) out of it. I think it’s better that more people can fly now.

For whatever it’s worth, this service can be purchased. I’m a member of Travelocity Preferred. It’s something like $75 bucks, but they give it to you if you reserve enough stuff with them. I’ve had to use them for some minor stuff in-transit and they’ve been terrific. And unlike my former travel agent, they’re there 24/7.

It’s really hard to ge reliable numbers, because of the complex nature of airfares – airlines got approval for so-called “Super Saver” fares even before full deregulation in 1978. But here’s something from the General Accounting Office that says that fares dropped in real terms by between 5 and 10 percent between 1979 and 1990, depending on the market. The real action occurred after that, when fares dropped an additional 21% by 1998. Keep in mind that fuel costs dropped during that period, making some of that fare drop attributable to forces bigger than deregulation.

As to what you got? All the stuff people are talking about – legroom (I don’t have the data, but seat pitch in coach was more like 34-36 inches as opposed to 32 or even 31 inches these days), bad airline food that was actually not all that bad and served on real porcelain with metal utensils, free booze in flight, an additional flight attendant or two per flight, stuff like that. What you didn’t get was additional safety or on-time performance or even luggage lost less frequently – all those measures have improved with deregulation.

Airlines are apparently really bad at making a buck. But they are very good at identifying what’s important to passengers and providing it at the expense of all the niceties that people say they value but apparently don’t when they book their tickets.

It’s also progressive. I never fail to be amazed when a Liberal acquaintance will start commenting on how rotten deregulation has been, because now he has to listen to squalling brats across the aisle and no longer gets a real champagne glass with his drink.

I would think he’d be happy that mothers with children who can’t afford nannys can now at least afford to fly. The biggest beneficiaries of airline deregulation have been the poor and lower middle class.

This is generally true of deregulation in general. The rich always manage to work their way through the system - it’s the masses that benefit from open markets.

That’s correct. In the US, magnetometers (metal detectors for people) began in 1969 and spread gradually, becoming mandatory (along with screening of carry-on baggage) in 1973. PLO and people wanting to go to Cuba, you know.

Other parts of the disappearing convenience were at least partially related to deregulation. Not being guaranteed a profit incented airlines to overbook, which made it more difficult to purchase tickets at the counter as airliners filled up. The hub and spoke system and the growth of monster airports in those hubsincreased the complexity of baggage handling, which increased the time which passed between getting off the aircraft and retrieving one’s bags.