How U.S. Air Travel Can Get (A Little Of) Its Groove Back
The causes of our travel woes are many and varied, but U.S. policy is making things worse.
I’ve been traveling a lot this year—a lot. And it hasn’t exactly been a fun experience (though I’m of course happy to trade the relative tranquility of 2021 air travel for a more open, but chaotic, 2022). Indeed, judging from the news and my own personal experiences, it’s as if everyone in the United States rescheduled their 2020-2021 personal and professional events for a 12-week period in 2022. Seriously, folks, it’s kinda nuts out there right now.
Anyway, a lot of the chaos we’re seeing seems to be the usual pandemic story: Most airlines shut down routes and furloughed workers when the pandemic first hit, and they’re all now struggling to resume more normal operations now that everyone’s traveling again, more quickly than the airlines anticipated. This struggle appears particularly rough on the labor side, with industry folks complaining about a lack of pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, and so on—and it’s been exacerbated by the usual spring/summer weather disruptions and pandemic problems in supply chains and support services.
Put it all together, and you have a recipe for a bunch of discrete flight cancellations and overbooked replacements (which are bad enough), and broader, more systemic challenges facing the future of U.S. air travel: fewer flights, fewer routes, higher fares, etc. But, like so many problems we’ve experienced during the pandemic, the ones facing American air travel aren’t solely pandemic-related. Instead, once again, there’s U.S. policy—in this case, air “cabotage” restrictions—likely making everything worse.
You may recall that we’ve already discussed maritime cabotage laws—namely, the Jones Act, the Foreign Dredge Act, and the Passenger Vehicle Services Act—and the harms that these protectionist laws inflict on the U.S. economy. Well, unfortunately, we have similar restrictions for air passenger and cargo service, and—surprise!—they’re causing similar problems.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Dispatch to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.