Our nation’s airlines are in

Our nation’s airlines are in dire financial straits, and the Transportation Security Agency makes their problems worse.

The Dow Jones Transportation Index is down 13% over the last year, and the nation’s two biggest airlines lost more than $3 billion combined in 2001. USAirways, the nation’s sixth largest carrier, entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week.

USAirways is a high cost carrier which relies on business travel up and down the East Coast. (Their route map is made up of short distance travel throughout the east coast, with plenty of takeoffs and landings relative to flight miles and utilization of high cost airports.)

The economy is suppressing business travel, but so is the hassle (delay, cost, aggravation) of airline security. This has hurt USAirways especially, because their profitable routes are the New York-DC-Boston shuttle which has given way to train travel, and hops in and out of small airports up and down the Eastern seaboard has given way to the automobile.

United, USAirways’ new codeshare partner, went from losing $10 million a day down to $5 million a day after cutting routes, schedules, food service, and wringing concessions from labor. They are still fighting a battle for business travelers, and the Transportation Security Agency has stood in the way almost every step of the way.

When the TSA took over airport security checkpoints, they told the airlines that they could no longer offer priority lines for the airlines’ most frequent customers because of “equity.” They told the airlines that their bread and butter customers had to waste more time in lines, and they began chasing those customers away. The administration relented, but in a haphazard way. Now, from one week to the next, there’s no telling whether there will be an express line for frequent customers.

Most harrowing, it’s never clear what security procedures actually are. It varies tremendously from one station to another, and from one day to the next.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the only airlines making money are the low cost carriers who specialize in leisure travel and customers who are used to several hour waits.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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