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 Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch

martin FARES AND UNFAIR TREATMENT

BY MARTIN B. DEUTSCH

November, 1980 -- We’re delighted at the early response by our readers to Frequent Flyer. Within a week of the distribution of the first issue in September, more than 150 readers had taken the trouble to send us unsolicited comments.

The nature of these letters can be best summed up by this vignette. Coleman Lollar, our managing editor, came into my office one recent morning and said he hoped we’d get at least a few negative comments because, he speculated, “nobody’ll believe we’ve gotten nothing but praise.” Actually, as of this writing, the mails (and the numerous telephone calls) have delivered an almost unanimous stream of kudos, coupled with countless observations that business travelers have long needed a magazine to hone in on their particular interests and to act as an advocate on their behalf.

We think we have gotten off on the right foot. Just about everyone—readers and advertisers—agrees that the first two issues are right on target. And we are fully confident that we can continue to deliver the required product—in fact, we have every intention of improving our content and focus, issue by issue.

We know who we are, and we know who our readers are and what they want. We have been publishing successful products for this audience for decades: witness the Official Airline Guide and the OAG Pocket Flight Guide. And we are supersensitive to the needs and problems of the frequent flyer.

This awareness is particularly important to our advertisers and to potential advertisers, who have felt, from the day we went public with this project, that we had one critical challenge that outweighed all others: to develop an editorial concept that would attract and hold the readers. There was no question that we had the audience, that this audience had impressive demographics, and that this audience could and would sustain the right magazine.

There’s little doubt from your response to the early issues that we’re right-in—maybe more so than even our warmest supporters anticipated. And we’re rapidly making coverts of the skeptics.

The readers are pleased, the advertisers are pleased.

One of the burning issues on which we’ll be keeping a close eye on is airline deregulation: how it affects—pro and con—the travel experiences of the frequent flyer.

So far, so-called regulatory reform has given us very little to crow about. Deregulation has chalked up a dismal record, at least in the early going, and there’s no silver lining, at least as far as this observer can make out. The airlines are paying heavy penalties, as are small and medium-size communities and as is the business traveler, who is overcharged and underserved. He continues to subsidize a plethora of special promotional pleasure fares, which are generally denied to him on his business flights. And, the cost disparities between some of the current competitive giveaways, and normal full fares are obscene.

Fares these days are as fickle as the weather. As of this writing the full unrestricted roundtrip rate between the West Coast and New York is $920; coach is $708. The are lower fares, some of them substantially so, but they have requirements and restrictions that all too often preclude use in a business itinerary. You can fly coast to coast on scheduled services for as little as $318 roundtrip, no restrictions, with a $3 meal surcharge and $2.50 for head sets in each direction. Granted, these flights are not first class—no such section is available—the configuration is strictly economy. But the jets are of recent vintage, the amenities reasonable and the whole experience tolerable.

Sure, I’d rather go first class any time. Or business class, if it were available on domestic routes, but the price differential between this $218 tariff and what the business flyer normally has to pay defies rational explanation.

This exercise becomes even more frustrating—and infuriating—with normal roundtrip New York-Chicago, for example. First class at this moment is $442, coach $330. The distance between New York and Chicago is about one-third of that between the Big Apple and the major West Coast cities. Yet, you can fly safely and relatively comfortably across the country—both ways—for a mere $218.

We can explore the reasons, such as Eastern going transcon, and World battling to earn a reputation as a scheduled airline. But who ultimately pays the freight, the full fare?

You do! And it’s not right.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1980-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.