Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ripe For A Revolution?

Horror stories like this and this seem to be increasingly common. I suspect I myself have never experienced a truly horrific airline incident. My luggage has never been lost. I fly maybe once or twice a year. I remember sitting on the tarmac for a couple hours once during a sandstorm in Phoenix, which was unpleasant given that I am 6'5", but nothing horrific.

But what I think is interesting is that the experience of flying has steadily deteriorated over my lifetime, without a corresponding drop in prices. Services have been taken away. Security intrusions are greater. Restrictions are more onerous. And everyone is more crabby.

By contrast, I just completed a round trip from St. Louis to New Jersey by car with a two year old and a three year old, and I have to say that that experience is much better than it was when I was a child. The roads are better, the car is more comfortable, the services available off the highways are better, there is better entertainment for the children. And in spite of the recent spike in gas prices, the cost has not gone up.

Obviously on a car trip, we are in much greater control of our experience than we are as airline passengers. We pick what food we will eat, not airlines. We decide when we will start for the day and stop for breaks, not the airlines. Nobody tells us not to use our cell phones, or what position our seatback needs to be in. That goes a long way.

Another thing is that when I look at what factors influence the experience, there is:

  • The governmnet (buidling and improving the highways).
  • Car manufacturers
  • Oil companies, private store owners (finding a clean bathroom is no longer an adventure).
  • Restaurant chains
  • Hotel chains
  • Consumer electronics (Keeping kids entertained on 16 hour ride is much easier with a DVD player).

For airline travel, the lsit is:

  • airlines
  • the federal government

Where's my flying car, again?

In any case, the situation seems ripe for a break-up. Obviously, there are neccesarily large barriers to entry for airline travel. But there seems to be a huge market opening for a more pleasant method of long-range travel.

I have no idea what it will look like, but my prediction (hope?) is that things will look much different in 10 years, and we will look back at what we used to have to go through to travel with horror.