Editor's Note: ASTA's 2014 Journalist of the Year James Shillinglaw has been writing a regular weekly column for TravelPulse for some time now, but now, as part of our new Industry Insider section, we've asked him to provide more news analysis and commentary on the issues and stories of the moment. Here is his first offering, based, as he says with great humility, on his fairly limited 25 years covering the travel business.
Back in the 1990s, we wrote hundreds of articles on the promise of Open Skies, as U.S. negotiators went around the world to cut Open Skies deals with different regions. The goal was an air regime that would offer more choices and lower fares to consumers, as more competitors entered the market on global air routes. Those agreements were indeed made, and for a time they did open up aviation routes to more competition.
Then the airlines got wise and started to form vast alliances and joint ventures that put the lock on international air routes once again. And now, when they are threatened from new competition, in the form of low-cost carriers like Norwegian Air System and the burgeoning airlines of the United Arab Emirates (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar), which are not members of alliances, U.S. airlines and their partners are crying foul. And they are turning to the media for support.
They've also brought in the somewhat incongruous support of airline unions, though I can't believe that's a very strong alliance. And in a bit of a stretch, Delta CEO Richard Anderson appeared to connect the debate to Islamic terrorism (since some of his big competitors are indeed from Islamic countries).
Aligned against those U.S. airlines are the U.S. Travel Association, Business Travel Coalition and consumer rights groups, among others. They argue that Open Skies needs to do just that: open up airline routes to new competition, which one would hope would lead to lower fares.
Sometimes it amazes my to see the hypocrisy exhibited by major U.S. airlines. Then again, I've been observing them for long time from my perch covering the travel agency distribution system, which has long had a love-hate (make that mostly hate) relationship with major airlines.