So many  flights. None of them mine.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • So many flights. None of them mine.

I'm stuck at O'Hare in a perpetual three-hour layover. Every time we seem to move a little closer to departure, they move the departure time a little further away. And that is on top of the hour delay on our first segment. It's Sisyphean.

To be clear, had I been late for my flight I'd be out the price of the ticket (or at the very least, a $150 change fee). But American Airlines is actually under no legal obligation to get us where we're going in any time frame remotely close to what we purchased. If they don't get us out tonight, they'll get us out tomorrow. Maybe. If they find some room on another flight. Or whenever.

Air travel doesn't have to be this way. Nor was it always.

Yeah, I know: Flying is so much cheaper now than it was in the days of regulation. So I should quit my whining. But while this conventional wisdom is true, it does not necessarily mean that commercial air travel is cheaper today than it would have been had the regulatory regime continued. Indeed, according to a 2007 study, inflation-adjusted airline fares have actually fallen less steeply since deregulation than they had during the 30 years prior.

This paper makes clear that the grant of pricing freedom to the airline industry has generally resulted in average prices being higher than they would have been had regulation continued under the DPFI rate-setting policies.

Airline fares were never static. The maximum fare was determined by a complex regulatory formula that took into account a variety of factors and capped profits at a reasonable return on investment. Given the productivity gains the industry has seen, most travelers would have seen fares fall faster under the old regulations than in the good old free market. And by far the largest impact on productivity is the size of the plane, an evolution that would have likely occurred with or without deregulation.

Also, the regulatory regime was not set in stone. The fare-setting formula and other rules could have, and likely would have been adjusted to deal with changing industry realities. While we can't know that fares would have continued to fall as they had during the 30 years prior to deregulation, we've got no reason to suppose that they wouldn't have.

And under the old regulatory regime, I'd probably be well on my way home by now, as AA would have just rebooked me on the next flight to Seattle—whatever the airline—not the next AA flight... of which there isn't any tonight.

And that would make "unavoidable" delays like this a bit more avoidable.