The Foundation of Low-Cost Air Carrier Price Structures prior to Airline Deregulation in the United States by Kane Minks

by Kane Minks

The U.S airline industry has come a long way from the days of government regulation and oversight.  In the November 1964 Air Transport World article “Let’s not give the store away!” many of the top minds in aviation at that time shared ideas and viewpoints on what the future may hold for aviation.  They may have speculated, but really had no idea what was to come.

Before U.S. airline deregulation, those in the aviation world continued to wonder what might become of their ever-changing industry, in the age of airline regulation.  Many domestic and international airline fare structure strategies were considered, including the implications of price elasticity.  The thought of overzealous marketers moving toward low-cost structures had many in the U.S. fearing the industry would head in the wrong direction.

The domestic and international markets were headed in two totally different directions.  The low-cost fares of the international airline market made sense since these fares provided greater load factor by increasing passenger volume.  At the same time, the U.S. domestic market was not yet convinced since they could not find the optimal point of price elasticity; whether or not fares should be increased or lowered and the point where passenger traffic would be reduced.

Many airlines grew frustrated with dull and unproductive fare structures in a regulated environment.  Low-cost and special advanced fares seemed to be the rational direction for airlines.  Passengers may have been paying different fares, but airlines could expand the market to price-sensitive passengers and others not flying.

The fears of discounted fares were largely based on what happened after the U.S. World Wars in the electronic housewares industry.  Americans were war-weary and found a new ability to buy.  There was a huge demand for goods.  Companies sought to beat out competitors by expanding production.  Supply outgrew demand and sales began to drop.  Conventional and discount retailers alike began to suffer.  Price wars erupted to capture as much of the remaining demand as possible, which slashed company profits.  Similarly, airlines had an over-supply of seats to fill, but adjusting fare structures set to reshape the airline industry for good.

The low cost fares and price wars of today are making flying increasingly accessible to people around the world.  Airlines that cannot afford to wage price-wars have to find new and unique ways of attracting business.  Customer-service, incentives, technology, and the overall travel experience are ways some airlines are gaining steam to retake market share from low-cost airlines. Some of these strategies have proven successful in regaining market shares.  Many things will continue to change.  The highly dynamic world of aviation around the globe will further shift and evolve as new strategies and factors appear. What the future holds for airline price structures may rely more on fees and less on volume.  Only time will tell.

delta dc aircraft regulation structures Kane Minks

Delta DC-6

A retrospective from Air Transport World’s “Let’s not give the store away!” November 1964

Kane Minks

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