Friday, September 12, 2008

The Fallout Continues from Airline Cutbacks

I’m starting to make arrangements to attend next April’s board meeting of NARP (the National Association of Railroad Passengers) in Washington. Any trip to the mainland is an excuse for me to take a train ride, of course, so my plan was to fly to Chicago, then take Amtrak’s Cardinal overnight from there to Washington. It's one of my favorite trips, passing through the New River Gorge and across the Blue Ridge Mountains. Wonderful scenery all the way.

Since I’m deep into American Airlines’ frequent flyer program, I started at their web site. But – oops! – American’s non-stop from Honolulu to Chicago is no longer operating. I’ll have to go by way of Los Angeles or Dallas and the 8-hour trip is now at least an 11-hour trip … assuming I can get the flights I want using mileage and also assuming no delays.

But the reduced number of flights has serious implications that go way beyond minor inconveniences for individual passengers. For instance, officials at the Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, AZ, are reporting that 800,000 fewer passengers used that facility during the first seven month of this year compared to the same period in 2007.

And that’s a very big deal, because the airport takes a piece of the action from the money passengers spend in the facility – for parking your car, for a magazine to read on the plane, for a muffin and overpriced latte at Starbucks and, of course, for your plane ticket. As of now, the folks who run the Phoenix airport are expecting more than a 12% drop in revenue for the year. That’s a $26 million dent in their budget. Ouch!

Now what would the total amount be if we were to tally up all of the lost revenues for all of the airports all across the country? I dunno. But whatever it is, it’s a reeeeely big number.

Ironically, there's still some demand there, but the flights aren’t. Airline industry officials have been very frank, saying they're not going to have seats for everyone who wants to fly.

So maybe our representatives in Washington should get off their butts and start to adequately fund a real, integrated national rail passenger system? Ya think??

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