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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

FLY FREE

"If you can't explain what you're doing in plain English, you're probably doing something wrong"

Imagine a time when there were only a few really big airlines. They didn't need to compete with each other for passengers because there were not very many. The prices were high and the routes decided in Washington DC. Imagine that no one can start a new competitor without permission from the US government. Imagine it is illegal to lower your prices in an attempt to lure customers to your airline, illegal to make yourself more competitive. Imagine a time with no frequent flier miles and fewer airports.

You're imagining what it was like in until the late 1970s with US commercial airlines. The man responsible for changing all that was Alfred Kahn, who recently died. CNN reports:
The result of his work was the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, signed into law by then-President Jimmy Carter, who predicted it would reduce airfares by up to 50 percent and open up air travel to millions of Americans who previously couldn't afford it.The Department of Transportation became the industry watchdog, and airlines took control of themselves.

Deregulation gave birth to the concepts of airport hubs and frequent flyer miles and led to the creation of new airlines.

"His vision and actions resulted in a profound transformation of the U.S. airline industry and strongly influenced international air transportation," the publishers of Aviation Week and Space Technology said when they named him the winner of the 1997 Welch Pogue Award, which recognizes contributions to aviation.
Kahn was called the architect of deregulation, and he was responsible for one of the few good things that happened during the Carter administration. Kahn's efforts took a government-controlled socialist dream and freed it to the market and capitalism. Plane fares plummeted, and competitors like Jet Blue and other smaller airlines sprouted up. Unsupported by government controls, airlines like Braniff died.

Its true, the quality of an air flight dropped as well, but air travel changed from being an experience to merely a method of travel. Now, regulation and government control has turned the method of travel into travail and misery for air travelers, who have to wait hours to board, get groped by some leering stranger in the TSA, and can't even take a bottle of water on board to save themselves from dehydration in the recycled air.

We need more Kahns out there to kick the government out of businesses that they're artificially propping up (biofuels), outwardly running (banks, car companies), and hindering through regulation (just about everything else out there). Because the customers almost always benefit when that happens, and suffer when the government isn't beaten back to its proper boundaries.

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