Airline CEO Wants Government to Ban Business Class for the Public Good

The biggest reason the air travel experience is so bad in the U.S. is because airlines are government-protected and the space within which they can innovate – and the need for them to do so – is highly limited.

  • It’s not just that foreign airlines can’t own U.S. carriers.

  • Government hands out slots, effectively in perpetuity, at the nation’s busiest airports – incumbent airlines have them, new competitors don’t. What’s more, unlike in much of the world, nearly all airports in the U.S. are owned by governments.

  • They enter into long-term leases for gate space, and give right of first refusal to extend those leases, to existing airlines – blocking new entrants from accessing the most important markets.

There’s little opportunity to disrupt the U.S. airline market, but that’s not enough for the big U.S. airlines who use government all the time for their own advantage, whether it’s:

  • Delta quashing attempts to build a second Atlanta airport
  • United lobbying to keep to ‘perimeter rule’ in effect at Washington National, so there can be no competition at the preferred airport for United’s long distance flights
  • American and Southwest colluding to prevent new competition at Dallas Love Field literally destroying gates from which other carriers might provide service.

Yet they have the tenacity to claim that some foreign airlines are too supported by their governments that they ought not be allowed to fly here (further limiting competition and transferring wealth from U.S. consumers to airline shareholders).

The airline industry worldwide has long been deeply intertwined with governments, and the same sort of cronyism we face in the U.S. plays out in other countries as well. For instance the CEO of Lufthansa proclaims that only the wealthy should fly, government ought to crack down on low fares because low fare are bad for the environment. In other words, he’d like to see the German government and the EU crack down on competitors like Ryanair, easyJet, and Wizz Air to protect Lufthansa Group from having to compete on price.

Well the CEO of European low cost carrier Wizz Air said ‘hold my beer’, low cost airline CEOs can play the same game of ‘bootleggers and baptists’ aligning their self-interest with a noble purpose to get government to advance their own business interests at the expense of consumers.

He argues that the government should ban business class, a product his airline doesn’t offer. And it’s not because it limits competition from better products, it’s for the good of the world, natch.

Business class should be banned. These passengers account for twice the carbon footprint of an economy passenger, and the industry is guilty of preserving an inefficient and archaic model.

A rethink is long overdue, and we call on fellow airlines to commit to a total ban on business class travel for any flight under five hours.

Here’s how Skift‘s Brian Sumers describes the green claims of another Bill Franke-controlled airline, Frontier:

Calling Frontier “America’s Greenest Airline,” [CEO Barry] Biffle explained it would buy the newest airplanes, cram them with seats, and fly them longer each day than competitors. Inside, Frontier would offer zero amenities — no Wi-Fi, in-seat power, or entertainment — while charging extra for everything, including baggage, food and sodas.

“Look, it is not the most comfortable for a couple of hours,” Biffle told hundreds of industry insiders, “but it is the most comfortable that you will find for the planet.”

The world is facing a climate change crisis, and Biffle essentially mocked it, repackaging the airline’s existing model, and congratulating himself for environment stewardship. Yes, packing on spartan (and light) seats reduces per-passenger emissions, but Biffle, a former Spirit Airlines executive, loved that strategy well before most travelers worried about sustainability. It saves money.

Every business can do this, cloak their self-interested lobbying in the mantle of benefit for a broader public good. Indeed, most businesses who seek to profit by political rather than economic means do this today. It’s just exceptionally common in the airline industry, where government corruption has run rife on consumer interests for a hundred years.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. It is amazing how often businesses come up with proposals to save the earth that just happen to also help their bottom line….

  2. If WIZZ Air is so concerned about the environment, they should close down their own airline, layoff all personnel and tell their customers to take the train instead.

    Enough already with the hypocrites telling others what they must do.

  3. Frankly, with many airlines charging 5 to 7x the cost of economy seats for their business class, I don’t see the logic in doing away with luxury seats. Maybe it’s because they don’t actually sell most of them at full fare, so they upgrade some passengers and then fill their vacated seats at the economy fare. In that case, it would be more profitable to just have more economy seats.

  4. With all these accusations of virtue signaling…would you then propose a government takeover?
    I thought not.
    No one here is clamoring to pay more or to stop traveling.
    At least do the intellectually honest thing and admit you don’t care about the environment.
    But if you do care, at least give imperfect human beings some credit for their imperfect plans.

  5. Doug, that goes both ways. It’s amazing how often socialists come up with proposals to save the earth that just happen to attack business.

  6. The head of LX also wants to ban tickets that fall below a certain amount. Aviation may account for just 2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but it represents the easiest way for an individual to have an impact. When you think of the natural disaster that caused the greatest loss of life among Scandinavians on recorded history, do you think of a tsunami in 2005 in the Indian Ocean?
    Some European governments will be looking to regulate aviation because of its contribution to greenhouse gases, because of seemingly frivolous behavior in the face of an extinction-level event. Certainly, there are many far larger contributors to the problem, and ones for which viable alternatives can be developed. For the same reasons that aviation doesn’t have viable alternatives, it’s relatively easy to regulate, and so, in the face of a genuine need to “do something”, it becomes an easy target.
    The fight here is companies trying to use this movement for their own advancement. That is a dangerous game to play, since a divided industry will be conquered.
    What I’d like to see is a major bank in the US release a credit card in virtue-signalling green that only gave a fraction of the miles you’d expect, and carbon offset all your purchases. You can imagine the ads now: smug guy in his late 40s boarding a plane with a hot, slightly hippy woman in her late 20s for a vacation. They turn left, “what about the environment?” She protests. He flashes the card. “yeah. What about it?”

  7. Within Europe a business class seat is really a guarantee of an empty middle seat next to you. It does mean intentionally being less efficient. I’m not for banning it, but I could see new or increased taxes coming as a disincentive.

  8. Bubba says:
    “Aviation may account for just 2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but it represents the easiest way for an individual to have an impact.”

    I thought not having children was the single most powerful thing you can do – worth far more than all the other things you can do combined. And it’s REALLY easy.
    Why isn’t everyone calling for government to regulate that?

  9. @Robert: semantics. I said “an individual to have an impact”. A. It takes two to tango. B. The result gets its own line in the carbon footprint calculus.
    Also, real estate doesn’t factor in, and concrete is both nasty and ubiquitous.

    Yes, I didn’t say this was the most effective solution; just the easiest to regulate. I’m all for malthusian belts and dismal housing, and in that, I can say that I live what I preach.

  10. Curiously, none of the above correspondents were prepared to criticise their respective governments about their hypocritical policies versus international carriers. I suppose if you live in a ‘ closed shop’ you don’t know how much better your time in the air conditions might be.

  11. This is ridiculous, these CEOs fly in their private jets, hence the reason they don’t care about business class; the day that spirit, frontier, southwest and these type of airlines that don’t carry business class demostrare to be better airliners by not charging oxygen to be able to breathe while in the plane, and the day that we all see these CEOs Start flying only on those planes then I believe that the general public will consider understanding their believes and their theories.

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