Reason to complain?

April 18, 2012
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q. Why is the general public (and readers of your column and website) complaining about the high cost of airfares? I worked in the airline “industry” from 1969 to 2003 in aircraft maintenance. Back in 1970 I flew from Los Angeles to Minneapolis round-trip. I remember well that back then the lowest fare was $350 (as an employee I paid 25 percent or $75). That 1970 $350 fare adjusted for inflation would be about $3500 in today’s dollars. You can still fly that route when there’s a sale for $250 or so round-trip (obviously, it depends on the time of year and day of week). My point is that airfares, adjusted for inflation, are still very cheap. So why do people keep on griping about the high cost of air travel?

    A. I’m not sure about your inflation-adjusted math, but I agree that if airfares increased at the same rate as other “commodities” (gas prices, food, postage stamps) then they’d be a lot higher now. Remember when it cost just 8 cents or less to mail a first class letter? Some people argue that other consumer items (televisions, for example) have come down in price over the years, even adjusted for inflation, but I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison. I think consumers have been conditioned to expect low airfares thanks to an airline industry that has been chronically over-supplied for many years. It may be time to readjust our thinking as to the value of air travel.