How Cheap Can Flying Get?
It's often occurred to me that it's cheaper to fly now than it was 30 years ago. I remember paying $99 each way on People Express to fly from LA to NY in the late 1970s, about the same price you'll get with a good sale today. My mother swears that her flight to Germany cost more in 1953 than it did last year. Airfare expert Terry Trippler recently confirmed these suspicions by comparing airfares in 1982 to airfares today for 135 domestic city pairs (for 1982, he used published fares from the Official Airlines Guide).
Trippler started with five key cities, including Washington's Reagan National and Dulles, and then randomly chose destinations from Atlanta to Tampa. For Washington, he looked at nonstop flights to Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Nashville and Seattle.
In 1982, a round-trip flight to Atlanta would have cost $176 (about $375 in today's dollars using the Consumer Price Index, which estimates that you'd need $2.13 today to buy what $1 could buy in 1982); in Trippler's current check, the flight was priced at $178. Here are the rest of the results:
Denver: $257 ($547 considering CPI) in 1982, $158 today.
Minneapolis/St. Paul: $249 ($530) in 1982, $188 today.
Nashville: $170 ($362) in 1982, $212 today.
Seattle: $298 ($634) in 1982, $198 today.
To punctuate Trippler's conclusions, I received another e-mail yesterday from the flak at Farecast.com about "record low fares" from BWI, including a $130 round-trip fare to LAX (don't try to find it now -- it's gone).
So is it any wonder that the airlines aren't making money? For example, according to the Air Transport Association, U.S. airlines used 10.4 billion gallons of jet fuel in 1982, and it cost them $10.3 billion. In 2006, the airlines used 19.6 billion gallons of jet fuel and it cost them $38.5 billion. I'm not a math wizard, but I don't think you have to be one to see that something's gotta give.
Everyone complains about how awful air travel has become. Would it be a better experience if the airlines charged more and made money?
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