Consumers benefited from airline mergers

  • Article by: JOHN HEIMLICH
  • Updated: April 6, 2013 - 11:55 AM

In this April 15, 2008, file photo, Delta and Northwest Airlines planes taxi before takeoff at Logan International Airport in Boston. The merger of the two airlines was approved in October 2008.

Photo: Michael Dwyer, Associated Press

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The April 2 editorial (“What’s the upside of U.S. airline mergers?”) ignored the many benefits airline deregulation has provided travelers since 1978. Prices and routes are no longer arbitrarily determined by the government but are instead driven by the marketplace.

First, fares have decreased 40 percent in real terms due to increased and intense competition, even with the consolidation of carriers. More-economical options for more fliers have proliferated even as fuel prices have skyrocketed and inflation has driven up the cost of just about everything but air travel.

Second, more Americans are flying. In 1977, U.S. airlines transported 240 million passengers. Today it’s an annual average of more than 730 million.

Why? Because carriers expanded into smaller- and medium-sized markets that previously were underserved.

Third, service and safety have improved dramatically. According to the Department of Transportation, air travel has never been safer, and recent years have been among the best in terms of on-time arrivals and baggage-handling performance.

Airlines also are offering myriad services that would have been unimaginable decades ago. Airlines large and small move 2 million passengers and 50,000 tons of cargo daily.

Deregulation has transformed what was once a luxury for consumers and businesses into a crucial economic engine and everyday occurrence for millions of Americans.

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John Heimlich is vice president and chief economist of Airlines for America.

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