The Public’s Love/Hate Relationship with the Airline Industry

Now that the costly and intense presidential election is finally behind us, it’s time to focus on the next big thing in the lives of Americans: Thanksgiving.

After a heated election and a devastating hurricane, the public is weary, emotionally drained and ready to spend some quality time with the people we love. But before we can sit at the dinner table beside our crazy uncles and gaze upon that steaming turkey, millions of us will have to overcome one last obstacle:

The airline industry.

Just when you thought your flight couldn’t get any more expensive, dehumanizing and unreliable, we bring bad news: flights and airports will be even more packed than usual during the coming holiday season. We’re guessing you didn’t believe that could be true, but it is.

Here are the stats to prove it: the average flight in Thanksgiving 2011 was 82% full. In 2012 that number will increase to 90%, with the overall number of travelers 3% higher this year than last. In fact, Airlines for America reports that 24 million Americans will travel between November 16 and November 27. While the number of Americans flying has increased, the airlines themselves have slashed costs, reduced services and stopped running unprofitable routes. Supply and demand–you get it!

Like every other industry, the airline business wants to maximize profits while minimizing expenses. But does the biz now risk reaching a tipping point at which travelers turn to alternative means of getting from one place to another–or decide to stay home and save the trouble?

Will the public ever turn its back on the airline industry, or are we simply so dependent on is services that the act of raising our expectations is only a pipe dream?

The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle of the complex and co-dependent relationship the public has with the airline industry. We need it–and we hate it accordingly. As the industry nickels and dimes us every step of the way and tells us to take off our shoes and turn off our iPhones, we take it.

Why? Because we have to.