Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Living in Fly-Over Country, Starting to Like Delta

We’ve recently relocated to the southern Rocky Mountains, and our closest real airport is now Albuquerque – an hour and a half away. Denver is 6 hours away, and every other large airport (SLC, PHX, DFW) is twice that distance.

We just read that Delta’s flight attendants rejected unionization. (Stay with us, we’ll bring this all together in a second.) And the rumors are swirling about Delta creating a “Premium Economy” cabin (or whatever they end up calling it) on international flights. Both changes make us much more amenable to flying them. As much as we’re liberal Democrats (in spirit, if not necessarily in voter registration), we’re surprisingly anti Union.

ABQ is heavily dominated by Southwest, an airline we really don’t care for. Every other major airline (except Alaska, which some would say isn’t really a major), has flights from Albuquerque to its various hubs – Continental to Houston, American to Dallas, USAir to Phoenix, etc. But discounting (bad pun) Southwest, our personal next-best options are United and Delta. We’ve avoided Delta because... I’m not even completely sure why. We certainly like United for Economy Plus (and only for E+), and have grown fond of Alaska and Frontier, which, alas, don’t have any realistic options from our new base near ABQ.

How we wish for JetBlue or Virgin America – but if wishes were fishes.... So, “our” airlines from ABQ are more likely to be United or Delta, and Delta will now be back on the list. As much as we detest flying cattle class, we can suffer through a domestic coach connection to an international gateway/flight if we might have the option of decent legroom for that very long over-the-water travel.

Middle America (and despite large populations, cities like Denver will never be big enough, or, in Denver’s case “on the coast” [unless the big California earthquake ever comes]) has very few international non-stop flights. Seattle – one of our two previous closest airports – has many international routes. Denver has basically two – London Heathrow (United and British Airways) and Frankfurt (Lufthansa). Albuquerque – population near 1 million – has none. Heck, ABQ doesn’t even have a non-stop to New York, nor Boston, nor Seattle.

Other middle America cities are in the same boat (plane?) too. Unless it’s from an airline’s midwest hub (Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis) there just aren’t many non-stop international flights from anywhere except the coasts. Which grudgingly makes a little bit of sense. Nonetheless, we’re whining, and would like at least an ABQ-NYC flight. But as long as Southwest has a lock on the airport, we don’t really expect that to happen.

All this reminds us that air travel isn’t some right, but rather a privilege. We aren’t guaranteed low fares, free carry-on bags, or wonderful schedules from every airport. We are at the mercy of each individual airline business, and those airlines are in business to maximize returns for shareholders. This is not an altruistic industry, but then neither is it an industry that the government (sorry Senators Schumer, Cardin; Secretary LaHood) should be meddling in. And if the government (which is, or should be, the people) really thinks they should meddle, well, let’s just re-regulate the whole thing.