What Happened to Golden Skies? Understanding the Airline Industry

Just a few short decades ago, air travel was a luxurious, stylish, and even fun experience. The time of the “golden skies,” however, is obviously long gone. We now have a crowded, cramped, crunched, hassle-filled ride that often creates more stress than anything else in your day. So what happened? Where did the zest go for airline customers, and how can you make the most of what’s left of the former glory days?


For starters, let’s take a look at some of the tricks that airlines have devised over the years to maximize their profits. Things like selling advanced seat selection privileges, reducing seat size, reducing the distance between rows, legroom, headroom, and room for carry-on stowage all create more strain and stress on passengers. This all started in the late 70s when standards for these comforts were deregulated and airlines began to compete for profits by going head-to-head in each category. It was also around the same time that airlines began to go bankrupt. Before then, it was practically unheard of for airlines, among the most modern and lucrative of businesses, to go belly-up. And what’s more, after the year 2000, we have seen over a dozen mergers of the biggest companies left, making the problems even more widespread.


Consider this: according to the Department of Transportation, U.S. airline profits increased by a staggering 241% last year. At the same time, their fuel costs went down a whopping 38%. What did this result in? A boom in comforts and convenience for the customer? Not quite. In fact, while profits were soaring and costs dropping, complaints against U.S. airlines shot up 34%. What the heck?


It gets worse. Last year, the Department of Justice investigated the airline industry for colluding to keep prices high. So, not only are the airlines ripping us off big time, but they’re doing so collectively as an industry. To their credit, they are succeeding in at least one respect that benefits you and I as consumers.


According to Consumer Reports, since the end of the second World War, the percentage of full airline flights has risen consistently, with a new record being set each year since the mark of 3 billion passengers in a year was exceeded in 2013. It’s true this accounts for more efficient travel, which in theory should benefit us. But one glance at those ridiculous profit margins and it’s clear to see that we aren’t seeing this reflected in ticket prices.


And it isn’t reflected in safety measures either. Yes, flying is and will continue to be one of the most highly regulated and ultimately safe methods of travel. But it’s rather unsettling when you learn that another way the airlines are making money is by exploiting Federal Aviation Administration safety inspection loopholes that allow for adjustment within the margin of error on safety tests. So, once a new aircraft passes its emergency evacuation test, seat sizes can be reduced again to the absolutely smallest size possible.


All of this led to the authoring of a number of amendments to this year’s FAA reauthorization bill that would have set standards for the minimum seat space. Those amendments were rejected. This might not be surprising once you learn that, as reported by the Center for Responsive Politics, the airline industry donated upwards of $25 million to congress last year.
So, clearly, it can be tough on your back, your wallet, and your head just to take a flight somewhere these days. But there are ways you can alleviate the stress of all this wringing out. Check out this link to some of our best tips on how to save yourself from the tortures of flying, and you just may be able to enjoy golden skies once again.

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