The airline industry is in big trouble with most of us, I’m sure you agree. Fares keep going up with no end in sight. You pay extra for checked bags. The seats keep getting smaller and sometimes it costs more for slightly wider accommodations even in coach. Meals that used to be free now come in little boxes at hefty prices.
Even if you’ve paid for all of that, they still might call in the cops and evict you, bloody your nose and knock your teeth out so that airline employees might take the seat you purchased, and more conveniently hitch a ride to their next gig.
I was reminded of all that when, on my last Delta flight, I read an ad in their August edition of Sky Magazine. It was headlined “Help Us Defend U.S. Jobs.” In part, the text complained:“The nations of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are attempting to take over international aviation by funneling billions of dollars in subsidies into their state-owned airlines. U.S. airlines ... can’t compete with the unreasonably low prices of the gulf airlines. And for every route lost, 1,500 Americans lose their jobs. Left unaddressed, the U.S. aviation industry is at risk ... Join the fight to protect fair trade and American jobs.”
Say what? “Unreasonably low prices?” They want me to campaign against that? Hmm.
So, what’s Delta’s real problem here? The ad says the company’s worried that it can’t compete with state-owned airlines that are less concerned with turning a profit than with serving the public, providing more of what travelers want: cheaper fares, good service, no extra charges and free food and drinks.
How do Qatar, UAE and others do that? Simple: They funnel billions of dollars of investment (Delta misleadingly calls it “subsidies”) into the airlines they own rather than making profit maximization their be-all and end-all. Or, as it’s expressed at DELTA.COM/OURFIGHT: “Because they have large sums of money available, these ... airlines don’t have to rely on profit.”
What’s wrong with that?
According to the Delta ad quoted above, what’s wrong is that the state-owned airlines are more successful; they’re getting bigger market shares and, Delta claims, costing Americans jobs. In fact, if it weren’t for the questionable protectionism of U.S. regulations, those airlines would enter our domestic market and take over here as well.
But, of course, there’s a cure for all of that too, one that will not only save those jobs, but likely get us cheaper fares and better service. It’s to follow the example of Delta's vilified competitors: invest our tax dollars in U.S. airlines, too. Nationalize them.
Don’t worry: no jobs will be lost. (It takes just as many people to run state-owned airlines as private ones.) And just watch: Those fares will become “unreasonably low” in the process. Services and passenger perks might even reach the level of those gulf companies that so irritate Delta and other U.S. airlines.
Bring it on. And, while you’re at it, how about investing billions of our tax dollars in state-owned railways, rather than in further bloating the defense budget? The state-owned China rail system runs bullet trains that travel over 200 miles per hour. Meanwhile our under-funded Amtrak locomotives continue plodding along no faster than they did about 50 years ago.
Thank you, Delta, for making the point so exquisitely: When “airlines don’t have to rely on profit,” consumers benefit. Air fares become “unreasonably low.”
At least as far as public transportation is concerned, socialism is far more efficient than capitalism.
Reach Mike Rivage-Seul, retired Berea College professor, at Mike_Rivage-Seul @berea.edu.