Air travel has become more expensive of late. Carriers are struggling with the high cost of jet fuel as well as the net effects of a slowing economy which impacts the demand for travel services. This year many airlines introduced additional fees for economy-fare passengers, including ones for checked luggage, inflight beverages and snacks, and even blankets and pillows. In addition to such revenue-generation ideas, some airlines are pursuing cost-cutting measures by reducing flight schedules on some routes and laying off flight attendants, pilots, and backoffice staff. Potential passengers may grumble but they have little recourse but to search out the best deals online and hope that they don’t get bumped at the boarding gate. Other travel services, like hotels and car rental companies, are offering significant discounts at this time; but such great deals are usually accessible only after the traveler has already decided to pay out for higher plane tickets and assorted ancillary fees. Leisure travelers are assessing their closer-to-home options, while business travelers are also cutting back on face-to-face meetings.
Here is a quick review of the major air carriers currently operating in the U.S.
Southwest Airlines, based in Dallas, plans to trim some flights this year due to soaring fuel costs but may restore them in 2009 if the economy picks up, as some predict. Southwest has been smart enough to secure fuel stocks at lower prices than currently available, so the company is not losing as much as other carriers who failed to hedge in advance of the oil price surge.
Fort Worth-based American Airlines flies not only in the U.S. but also to destinations in Europe, Latin America and Asia. A planned new service linking Chicago and Beijing is likely to be delayed a year, as the company cites the cost of fuel and notes the economic downturn has lessened demand. American is not planning to cut any destinations from its current schedule but may fly to some of them less often. Early retirement options are available to employees as the company hopes to avoid layoffs.
Delta Air Lines, based in Atlanta, and Northwest Airlines, headquartered in Minnesota, are expected to merge, pending regulatory approval, possibly as soon as the end of 2008. Delta offers service around the globe, including to cities in Africa. Northwest has recently successfully emerged from bankruptcy protection. As one sign of a smooth transition, pilots from both companies have accepted a collective bargaining agreement.
United Airlines, with headquarters in Chicago, has recently also engaged in merger negotiations, respectively with Continental and with US Airways, but with no decision to join forces permanently. Troubles with its pilots’ union as well as with providing on-time service to passengers have plagued United over the last year. The carrier was successfully steered through bankruptcy by its current CEO Glenn Tilton.
Houston-based Continental Airlines, also a global carrier, has instituted fees for extra checked luggage but, unlike most others, still offers free beverages as well as meal service on longer flights. New service linking Newark/New York City with Shanghai is expected to begin in spring 2009.
US Airways, based in Tempe, Arizona, is probably best known for hourly shuttle service between major cities in the Northeast corridor. It also flies to cities in Europe and Latin America. New service linking Philadelphia and Tel Aviv is in the works for next summer.
Budget-priced carrier JetBlue Airways, with headquarters in Utah, is reconsidering ambitious expansion plans and deferring delivery of new jets to cope with the current economic climate. This company recently began offering pillows and blankets to customers as a fee service.
These airlines and the other smaller carriers continue to serve the U.S. public while struggling to maintain profitability, ensure security, and follow all federally mandated safety regulations. Most are looking at newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft as well as at technological advancements that will allow broadband access and additional entertainment options for their passengers.