Why Air Travel Is So Expensive and Unpleasant

Just four giants — American, United, Delta and Southwest — now control two-thirds of all air travel in the entire U.S.

In a song about outlaws, Woody Guthrie noted that, “Some’ll rob with a six-gun / Some with a fountain pen.”

Indeed, the big-money thievery in our society today is being perpetrated by the Fountain Pen Gang of corporate monopolists, Wall Street financiers and Washington lobbyists. They’re trying to pull off another multibillion-dollar heist right now in the airline industry. It’s a merger caper that would gouge consumers, shortchange airline workers and cut service to communities by further shrinking competition in an already-monopolistic market.

Just four giants — American, United, Delta and Southwest — now control two-thirds of all air travel in the entire U.S. The only competitive force left is a handful of smaller lines, such as JetBlue, Spirit, Alaska and Hawaiian. Currently, though, Alaska and JetBlue are trying to take over the other two, perversely arguing that cutting the number of competitors will miraculously increase competition and magically reduce prices for consumers.

This is what I call “Santa Claus Economics”: You have to be 6 years old to believe it. Here, boys and girls, is the reason that less competition is not more: All of these airlines are owned and controlled by the same tiny group of uberrich, Wall Street financial profiteers. For example, Vanguard Group (a $7 trillion global investment powerhouse) is the largest institutional shareholder in American, United, Delta, Southwest and Alaska, plus the second-largest in JetBlue. So, far from fighting the Big Four, the two monopolistic wannabes would join them to rig prices even higher and make airline “service” more of an oxymoron than it is now.

The word “free” in free enterprise is not an adjective, it’s a verb. We have to free-up the enterprising competitors that corporate monopolists are locking out, decentralizing market power, not increasing consolidation.

Why Is My Doctor Unionizing?

You wait a month to get a doctor appointment, then you sit in the waiting room an hour because Dr. Incorporated is perpetually overbooked, then you’re finally rushed in for your 10 minutes with the doc… tick, tick, tick… and then you’re scooted out, uncertain whether you’re supposed to take pills or make funeral arrangements.

Welcome to corporatized, consolidized and bureaucratized “health care” — a rigid system in which nurses, pharmacists and doctors too are no longer independent health professionals driven by a moral mandate to provide their best care to patients. Instead, all are treated as cogs in a monopolistic structure driven by an imperative to provide maximum profit to Wall Street investors who own the corporate-care chains. This financial hierarchy demands factory-like cost-cutting — including cutting the numbers of nurses, pharmacists and physicians who actually provide the care.

The cutbacks leave remaining caregivers stressed to the breaking point, and “care” is regimented to such time-motion metrics as limiting doctors to only 10 minutes per patient. Next!

Even when professionals complain that corporate cutbacks are endangering patients, the hierarchy responds with irrelevant financial statistics. For example, when Walgreens’ pharmacists recently revolted against constant staff cuts, the chain’s corporate bosses coldly retorted that they were investing $400 million in new pharmacists. Sounds like a big number, but really? Walgreens is pocketing $27 billion this year in profit! So, investing under 2% of one year’s profit will not make a blip in service to patients. Instead, the bulk of the billions that consumers pay goes to enrich top executives and Wall Street investors.

This enrichment of the rich few at our expense is why health care providers are unionizing — not for themselves, but for us patients. For information and action, go to doctorscouncil.org.

Jim Hightower
Latest posts by Jim Hightower (see all)