Opinion | To Fix Its Airlines, Does the U.S. Need to Rethink Regulation? | Airlines

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I was a senior in college in 1978 when I wrote my first opinion piece that touched on airline deregulation. It was an editorial in The Cornell Daily Sun (“Ithaca’s only morning newspaper”!) titled “Our Man in Washington,” and it was about Alfred Kahn, a colorful Cornell economist who presided over deregulation of airlines at the Civil Aeronautics Board from 1977 to 1978 before becoming President Jimmy Carter’s inflation czar.

I wrote, “When Kahn began hacking away at airline protectionism the airlines screamed, but today fares are lower, passenger volume is way up and airlines are actually profiting. Everybody except the small cities that no longer have nationwide air service is happy.”

“Happy” isn’t a word you hear a lot these days when it comes to airlines, except in their own advertising. People complain about high fares, unreliable service, lack of legroom and so on.

The public’s disgruntlement has created an opening for talk about some pretty extreme solutions. In a book last year, “Why Flying Is Miserable and How to Fix It,” the law professor Ganesh Sitaraman broached ideas such as replacing today’s system with a single government-run airline, or a single private carrier regulated like a public utility, or a government carrier operating alongside private ones (“the public option”).

Sitaraman, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School, has higher hopes for a more politically palatable option, “regulated competition,” which is more along the lines of what the United States had from 1938 until 1978.

This week I interviewed and exchanged…

 read more www.nytimes.com

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