The country's new Transportation Secretary, Norm Mineta, is a man in a hot seat. He also better be a man with a plan. Because in the weeks before his nomination, the Transportation Department issued a series of reports painting a gloomy picture of air travel in these United States.
First, a trio of reports threw cold water on the airline consolidation movement. Ticket prices at airport hubs without low-fare competitors can be as much as 40 per cent higher than at hubs where there's meaningful competition. Previously, conventional wisdom was 20 per cent higher. And one of the Transportation studies said that larger airlines routinely use their marketing clout and deep pockets to lower prices just long enough to drive out low-fare competitors.
Then came another report that consumer complaints increased 11 percent in the first nine months of last year over the previous year. It's not hard to understand why. A quarter of all flights during that period were late - by an average of 50 minutes. Now, here's a puzzler. The airline that enjoyed the best on-time performance was TWA. The worst was United, which has been bringing up the bottom of the list for the past 13 years. So why is TWA in bankruptcy court while United is trying to buy another airline? Perhaps Secretary Mineta will see the irony of that, too.