Ground Clutter

The Airline Myth

Oh, for crying out loud. Someone is (once again) blaming airline woes on the deregulation of 31 years ago. They have harnessed that tired old horse again. Way back in 1986, I wrote my first column for this publication. Even that far back my column lamented that so many people used that old argument about deregulation ruining the airlines. And now one group seems to think this is a big new story.

Recently, I received an emailed press release from a company called Demos Newsroom of NYNY. They have a “new” study/report which restates every argument that was rampant in 1986: deregulation ruined the airlines. The report was written by James Lardner and Robert Kuttner (Jim, by the way, is the grandson of the great writer Ring Lardner).

Folks, let’s remember airline safety is still closely regulated. Deregulation applies to market regulation. Before 1978, the feds actually regulated airline fares, routes (who could fly where), and other things pertaining to the marketplace itself.

One fact: Today the airlines fly more people, more cheaply, and much, much more safely than they did prior to the deregulation of 1978.

Why do we need market re-regulation? Long ago the story was that deregulation would kill airline safety. That was over 30 years ago and the safety record is better than it has ever been.

Yes, some say that low pay, long schedules and inexperienced pilots will bring down safety in the future. To tell the truth, I kinda worry about those things myself; but remember, safety is already covered by regulations and the guvmint has the authority to change those regs right now.

But Ralph, some say, the airlines can’t make a profit — can’t even break even — and are going bankrupt faster than a politician can add pork to a budget. Yep, that’s true. But guvmint does not owe a privately-owned company guaranteed profits, a fact many tend to forget.

Back in the 1960s, long before deregulation, a flight attendant (then called a stewardess) friend of mine told me that nobody could afford to ride the airlines except business people and people going to funerals. Today, most everybody can and does.

But therein lies another problem. Flying then was nice for the elite few who could afford it. Travel by airline is a miserable, unhappy activity with no dignity at all. I hate it. But, I would not for anything go back to the days when only a few could fly.

The customers have spoken. They want cheap tickets and give no indication that they are willing to pay for anything else. The low prices and shoddy treatment seem to be what the customer wants.

Finally, ask yourself, who is in favor of returning to guvmint market regulation? Seems to me it is mostly two groups: airlines and unions.

I’d like to hear from you on this. Send comments to my blog at

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