The Pros and Cons of Cheap Air Travel

The New York Times put together a data-driven graphic piece on the pros and cons of air travel and they highlight these same points. They add that cabins are fuller and seats are more cramped than ever. It’s true, legroom has indeed dwindled over the years. In the mid-80s, you had about 32-36 inches, and today, you’re lucky to get 30 inches. And seats were once 18-18.5 inches, while they’re now down to about 17 or even 16.5 inches.

Of course, the plus side to cheap air travel is that discount airlines, like JetBlue and Spirit, have forced the major carriers, like American Airlines, to unbundle their own fares. Overall, though, customers actually pay more with this model.

A study published in the Journal of Economics & Management found that when airlines unbundle fares and introduce fees, customers pay more for the same thing:

The data also suggest that the average fare falls by less than the bag fee itself, so that the full price of a trip rises for passengers who choose to check bags…the 25th percentile fare falls by about $7.00 when a bag fee is adopted, an amount equal to about one-half to one-third of the fee. As a result, it appears that the full trip price rises for the average leisure passenger by at least half of the bag fee on trips when that passenger checks a bag. Non-bag-checkers among leisure passengers, however, benefit from a lower fare.

However, you at least have the option to skip those fees and pay for your bare bones flight. That flexibility can be a plus. Cheap flights make travel more accessible for people who otherwise might not fly at all.

So it’s not all bad news. Plus, crunching data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, The New York Times reports:

Flights tend to be on time more often; up to over 80 percent of the time last year. Airlines lose track of less luggage. And rates for passengers getting “bumped” from their flight — of getting denied a seat — have also fallen.

In 2007, there were seven reports of mishandled baggage for every thousand passengers. In 2016, that rate dropped to less than three reports for every thousand passengers, its lowest level in that time. Even though recent news isn’t the best indicator, bumped passenger rates are down, too. In 2007, there were just over 100 bumps for every one million passengers, and now there are fewer than 75 per million.

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