Is It Really Happening?

July 5, 2017

Some time before 1964 — when I was a student at Clemson — I knew a lot. In fact, I kinda figgered I knew everything that there was to know.

One thing I learned at Clemson is that every new mode of transportation starts by serving wealthy people first, later the masses and finally moves into transporting freight.

I didn’t really believe that. My first airline flight was in 1964, from Greenville, SC, to Atlanta, GA. I wore a jacket and tie — as did all male pax — and the women wore gloves. I felt rich, but wasn’t.

Right after graduation that year, I asked a stewardess — we didn’t have flight attendants then — who in the word could afford to fly airlines? Her answer was simple: “rich people, businessmen and people going to funerals.”

That made sense to me.

Then an economist pointed out that trains followed the classic pattern — moving rich customers first, then the masses and then freight — including cows, grain, supplies and materials. Train transport of people is now rare in this country.

I didn’t know what to think. Starting in the 1980s, I traveled far and wide, hitting all 50 states (Obama may have beat me, since he knew of more than 50 states). Somewhere in my travels, I noticed that many pax wore blue jeans and t-shirts. The masses had arrived.

Freight? It’s big bucks for airlines today. Rich people ride first class, the masses tend to zonk out and snore in economy class. We seldom see freight, but by golly the airlines know it is on there.

In fact, many airlines carry no people at all, only freight. Will they be the leading airlines of the future? I once rode a 747 — carrying only freight — from Huntsville, AL, to Guadalajara, MX, unloaded and reloaded, then flew onto Mexico City, MX, unloaded/reloaded again, then flew back to Huntsville. I think the entire trip took about ten hours.

How will airports change if freight becomes the dominant customer?

I don’t know, but hope our airports figure it out in advance.