I am sickened, yes truly disgusted, by the state of the airline business. Unlike everyone else, however, what sickens me is the cult of the passenger. Everyone has been deluded into thinking that we, as consumers, have some sort of intrinsic right to reliable, high quality and, above all, cheap air travel. Everything else is considered unjust in our passenger-sacred, consumer-centric culture. And so when the price of oil rises to its natural level, we not only take it personally but also morally. As the New York Times put it this morning, in reaction to Continental Airline's decision to ground 67 aircrafts:
"For passengers, it all means a system that made flights cheap and plentiful is slipping away. “Air travel will be less democratic from here on out,” said Tim Winship, an editor of SmarterTravel.com, a Web site offering travel advice."
Exactly. With the rise in oil prices, air travel is becoming less democratic. Praise the lord! (who never travels coach). The problem with airline travel is that it has become way too democratic. In an age of unnaturally cheap fares, anyway could travel for next to nothing and almost everyone did. The environmental consequences of this have been absolutely catastrophic. But equally destructive is the damage to the culture of capitalism. Consumers need to understand that the free market is not a moral arrangement. Just as motorists have no right to cut-price gasoline, so airline passengers have no intrinsic rights to cheap tickets. The Constitution had no line about life, liberty and the pursuit of budget air tickets.
So, as cheap flights go the way of the Hummer (yeah!), what should the unjustly oppressed air passenger do. My suggestion is that they should walk to their destination. It only takes a few months to hike from east to west coasts and most travellers, especially those who travel coach, could do with the exercise and the fresh air.