Say goodbye to that SUV in the sky

Continental joins the airline bloodbath. There's no silver lining for air travelers in this bout of turbulence

By Andrew Leonard
Published June 5, 2008 2:04PM (EDT)

Two weeks ago, American Airlines announced plans to retire planes, cut back flights, and raise prices. On Wednesday, United Airlines taxied onto the same jet way -- announcing plans to remove 70 more aircraft from its fleet. And on Thursday morning, Continental joined the party: The airline, which has already retired 6 planes from service this year, will take another 67 out of service this year and next. Thousands of workers will be laid off at each airline.

There is no good news to discern for air travelers in this ongoing carnage. Travelers will end up with fewer options and pay more for the privilege.

The reason, as usual, is the cost of jet fuel. Continental is downsizing for exactly the same reason that General Motors is closing SUV and truck manufacturing plants. But there is one key difference. The SUV's rapid decline is a result of consumer choice. Americans stopped buying Ford Explorers and Chevy Tahoes. But consumer preference isn't what is killing the airlines -- yet. We're not the ones saying -- you know, that Boeing 737-300 really isn't fuel efficient, let's go with the Dreamliner instead.

How much can United, Continental and all the rest raise their fares, reduce route options, and cut back on amenities before travelers just stop flying?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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