Airlines Are Retrenching, and Alternatives Are Slim

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    garyst16 Silver Member

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    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/27/b...ternatives-are-slim.html?partner=yahoofinance

    By JOE SHARKEY
    December 26, 2011
    THE coming year will be a time of reckoning in business travel, as airlines reduce service at many airports and prospects fade for practical alternatives to flying, including the long-term promises of high-speed rail.
    Consider the new realities of air travel. Competition is decreasing, fares are rising and airlines are adjusting routes (and charging extra fees) in ruthless calculations to extract the greatest possible revenue per mile flown.
    Michael Boyd, the president of the consulting company Boyd Group International, sums up the phenomenon succinctly. “The cost of flying airplanes across the sky has eclipsed the ability to support it at many communities,” he said in a recent forecast. In 2012, he predicts, airlines will accelerate the mothballing of smaller 50-seat jets, the workhorses for connecting service between many midsize airports, and even some big ones.
    Many airlines will continue shrinking overall capacity and trimming domestic routes in 2012, and the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing of AMR, the parent company of American Airlines, will merely exacerbate the situation. In 2012, American will “ground some planes and resize our network,” the company’s chief executive, Thomas W. Horton, recently told employees.
    In addition, John P. Heimlich, the chief economist of the trade group Airlines for America, said, “Capacity reduction is one of the steps the industry is taking to preserve profitability.”
    Some business travelers are driving more often on some trips for which they would once fly. But what about trains? I got a lot of enthusiastic reader reaction a couple of weeks ago, after I wrote about taking a pleasant overnight trip in a cozy sleeper compartment on Amtrak’s Silver Star from Tampa to New York City. The fare was $480.80.
    Measured by time and money, that’s not remotely competitive with flying, where the best one-way fare I found for the same trip was $301, on a flight that takes about two and a half hours, airport to airport.
    On the other hand, the train fare included four meals in the diner car, as well as the overnight accommodations. For business travelers like Gary Brown, a consultant, such a rail option sometimes works.
    Last year, Mr. Brown took trains round-trip from Minneapolis to Tampa, with stops in Chicago and Washington. “Yes, a long, long ride, but I loved every minute of it,” he said.
    Mr. Brown said the rail alternative could make sense on itineraries where the train was convenient even if time-consuming. With cutbacks that often require more connecting flights, and given the need to arrive at airports well before departure time, Mr. Brown says he often has to fly the day before a business meeting and “stay overnight if I’m to give my customers a full day of my consulting.”
    He added, “With Amtrak, I can often spend the night on the train instead of in a hotel room.”
    Ah, what a joy it would be if the trains in this country actually went to all the places we need to go. Since we’re dreaming, let’s add that it would be such a joy if the trains went there a lot faster, too — as in high-speed rail, which is usually defined as about 150 miles an hour or more.
    Remember, my pleasant train trip from Tampa to New York City took 26 hours. Google Maps informs me that driving the same 1,125-mile route would take 19 and a half hours. The train is obviously more comfortable, but the fact is that the automobile goes faster, all things considered.
    Alas, I predict 2012 will also be the year when we come to the collective realization that for the foreseeable future we may be stuck with the air, train and car transportation system as it is, given economics and politics.
    Prospects are dim for improving existing train travel, let alone expanding it into national networks of high-speed intercity routes.
    A week after my overnight train trip, the House Transportation Committee held another hearing on the rapidly dimming prospects for domestic high-speed rail. It focused on the most ambitious major project that is still alive, the proposed high-speed system linking California cities from San Francisco to San Diego. At a cost now estimated at $98.5 billion, that project, still in the planning phase, is already 13 years behind schedule.
    It also appears to be as dead as the Concorde supersonic jet. The project is a “disaster” that’s “imploding,” said John L. Mica, the committee chairman who, like many other planners, now thinks our best bet for intercity rail service is to improve it in the one place where it demonstrably already works well, the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.
     

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