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One can only hope this doesn't happen to the airlines--it's contrary to everything our government and economy is about. Southwest has proven that an airline can have a good, profitable business model even in these times. Add JetBlue to that as well (I met the CEO and many of their flight crews, as we all shared a hotel together at JFK for a month in '99--very down to earth team).I think one of the things (outside of the security strains and diminished travel) we are seeing are repercussions from the mergers and acquisitions seen in the 80's and 90's. SWA and Jetblue keep their costs down by standardizing, such as with their aircraft. Look at AA, UAL, USAir. Delta--and you see a large collection of varied aircraft obtained from absorbed carriers like AirCal, TWA, RenoAir, and PSA--driving up costs. Nationalize those airlines, and one might as well kiss goodbye any chance of U.S. budgets returning to the plus side.We may have to see a "bankruptcy bloodbath" in order for old stale and static management styles to become more akin to the models you see at SWA and JetBlue. In the end, I think there will be more jobs in some areas, and fewer in others. And I'm sad to say, that's a consequence of the aggressive takeovers in the 80's and 90's, where the same airlines facing bankruptcy today gave "do or die" attitudes to those airlines they wanted to absorb, often by lowballing price structures in the smaller airlines routes.I like the way airlines blame security, but that's only part of the issue--let's say it's the issue that tipped the scales against the large carriers today.

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It is true that Southwest and Jet Blue are both profitable - barely. A couple of observations though:1. Neither is a true national carrier. Jet Blue is not an option for more than 75% of the population. Ever tried to fly from New York to Los Angeles on Southwest? Would you want to, even in their new, long-range 737s?2. The biggest cost for airlines is labor. Southwest has the lowest cost per mile flown in the business. Last time I checked, they are not unionized by the big machinist, pilot or flight attendant unions. This is their biggest advantage by far. Yes, they fly one type of aircraft and that does contribute. But they fly six or seven versions of that plane, the models spanning over 35 years of aviation development. Both UAL, AA and Delta have very, very expensive pilot and machinists contracts. I'm not sure about flight attendents, but I don't think their union is as strong. This is by far their greatest disadvantage. In addition to being expensive, the pilots contract also ensures that they are at a disadvantage in useage of this vital asset. SWA pilots fly more per month before hitting overtime than do UAL/AA/Delta. 3. Plane useage is Southwest's other biggest advantage. I don't know enough about Jet Blue to comment on this, but I am guessing they keep their 320s in the air as well. SWA does a much better job of keeping planes flying. Short turn-arounds are a key, as is smart scheduling. Ever wonder why SWA didn't move into DIA when it opened? The taxi times are too long at that sprawling airport (as are the landing fees). AA and UAL both make very poor useage of their assets. One real benefit from this market is that both have pruned their fleets significantly of older planes. This should have multiple benefits, including allowing tighter scheduling as newer planes are "up" more than older planes like the beloved 727 and older 737s. 4. The "stale" business model isn't failing some national airlines. Both Continental (remember them?) and Northwest are fairing much better than American and United. They are both losing money, but far less than UAL, AA or Delta. Both have been an agressive cost cutters and shrewd schedulers. Both were the last of the airlines to join the party when it came to updating their fleet, making what seemed like shrewd investments in the most cost-efficient models out there. They may get to finish the job with much cheaper aircraft then three years ago as a result of the steep decline in air travel. Boeing and Airbus are going to have a lot of planes sitting around looking for owners. Most planes are owned by leasing companies who are going to be left holding the bag when some airlines back out. 5. I think the airlines have a point on security. General taxpayer dollars support things like traffic lights, guard rails on interstates, fire departments and the US military. I think that having true national airlines is important enough to our economy that some sharing of the security burden is appropriate. Bottom line is that the airline business is the most cyclical of businesses. When times are good, they tend to be really good for the airlines - when times are bad etc. etc. This time its American, Delta and UAL who bellied up to the bar like drunken sailors on leave and did little to prepare for the end of the tech bbom party. And, and this time the downturn in the economy was accompanied by security fears - a bit of a perfect storm. Frankly, I think it would be good for one of the biggies to go out of business - esp. United. Would be a good lesson for those unions about the nature of their business.Colin Ware

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"1. Neither is a true national carrier. Jet Blue is not an option for more than 75% of the population. Ever tried to fly from New York to Los Angeles on Southwest? Would you want to, even in their new, long-range 737s?"I've flown SWA N/S non-stop from Baltimore to Phoenix--with head winds a good 6 hour flight the last time I flew. I found the extra legspace in their single class 737's much better than the cramped 757's that UAL and AA seem to be throwing on many of their routes. But for long hauls, the 767 is my favorite, but rarely used out of Phoenix.Jet Blue hasn't reached national carrier status yet, but SWA, by using alternate airports in the major markets, has. You raise many points--to numerous to mention, that are very true.One interesting thing about SWA, and totally off the thread's topic... They recently changed their "cattle car" concept a bit. Whereas boarding passes used to be available only an hour before the flight, and only at the gate, now you can obtain them up to four hours ahead of the flight at the ticket counter and curbside.Gone are the long lines snaking through the airport concourses. Still no assigned seats, but I find advantages to that. Last time I tried to book a flight for my wife, toddler and I on a major carrier, more than eight weeks ahead of the flight, I could not get three seats together. The day of the flight I tried to check in three hours ahead, and still couldn't get them together. I ended up sitting apart from my wife and baby--no passenger would yield their precious aisle seat on the rather long flight. An early check-in on a SW flight guarantees a row of seats for a family. I'd rather have a row of seats in a 737, than be scattered in a 757 :) But I digress too much....Good post Colin!

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Or if you are a bit of a snake in the grass like me, using the opportunity to pick the prettiest woman to sit next to....

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Just in case someone from Southwest is listening, I'll add my gripe. I too was travelling with the wife and daughter (11 years old) and we didn't have the luxury of "arriving early to get seats together," since we had a connecting flight in. The only 3 seats together were in the rear-facing, non-reclining emergency exit row, and my daughter wasn't allowed to sit there! So, she had to find other accomodations elsewhere on the aircraft.Solution? Next time we'll be flying Delta and getting reserved seats. Also, when I travel alone I'll always offer to switch seats, even from aisle to center, to let families sit together.

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agreed, SWA is simply the single worst airline to fly with period.Yes, they offer low fares, but it is the Walmart of the industry. Actually strike that, even Walmart makes a feable attempt to recongnize you as a customer.If one does just a few minutes of homework, you can usually find similar fares from the other carriers, ones who care.Our company did exactly that and now we fly Alaska Airlines exclusivly. They have excellent service, timetables, fares and are one of the very few airlines that not only are making money in this economy but are actually expanding.If you like being treated like a cow to save $6 on a $200 fare, SWA is the one for you. Also, as a side gripe, they have the ugliest color scheme ever to grace an airplane (someone should let them know that the '70's are over, those colors along with shag carpeting are out)

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"Also, when I travel alone I'll always offer to switch seats, even from aisle to center, to let families sit together." Wish you'd been on my flight.... I hear you on the SW connecting flight issue...that's the one flaw in their "arrive early" policy, unless it's changed with the new boarding pass scheme. But if a flight is N/S, I disagree with the other post knocking SW. Whether it be Delta, United, American or USAir, I find SW to provide more legroom on their flights. I've averaged about 100K miles a year in the air since '89, but never on the same airline. Whatever's cheapest is what I usually am stuck with. Doesn't allow me to build up FF miles....in 2000, my miles were divided between twelve airlines.On N/S routes, SW was consistently the most comfortable. Being fairly tall, I also would usually end up lucky--if aircraft wasn't booked, by taking the window seat, passengers would almost always select another middle seat rather than getting seated next to "bigfoot", which I think even my 3 year old likes to call me :)If I have a choice, I prefer an airline that flies 767's on transcon routes. When I was living on the west coast, I almost always went for UAL, AA or Delta. But out of Phoenix, even flights to JFK are being populated with cramped 737's, A320's and 757's by those airlines. One or two feeder flights a day go with the widebodies, but usually at times that get me to my destination at the wrong times. Flying to DC, I'd rather fly a SW 737-700 into Baltimore than a UA, Delta or AA 757 into Dulles. Some seem to suggest that SW (and those flying SW) represents low class (i.e. "If you like being treated like a cow to save $6 on a $200 fare, SWA is the one for you"), but I think such a suggestion is rather lame. And who cares about color schemes? The best airline depends on the fare, route, stops and equipment used. My loyalty is based on that, and I have no problem with SW if the circumstances fit. Given their new boarding policy, they may even become better than before, since the new policy discourages the "cattle" calls that used to ring out in the concourses.BTW--Alaska is among the best airlines I've flown, nationally and internationally.

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I'm a Premier Exec with United, so I usually get seats in the premiere zone with the extra leg room. Boy, those few inches really go a long way to making a long flight bearable. Of course, I will be toast when UAL goes belly up...

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