When Francis Scott Key penned the words to the “Star Spangled Banner” and coined his country as “the land of the free and the home of the brave”, he certainly hadn’t envisaged how his fellow Americans would be travelling two centuries on.
While anyone choosing to fly one of America’s carriers domestically should be considered brave, the inconvenience and cost of getting around the US by air doesn’t have a whiff of freedom about it.
Last week I flew to Dallas from New York. With direct flights between the two cities — three hours apart by air— costing more than a return from JFK to Narita, my route took me on a detour to Philadelphia on the way there and Charlotte on the way back. As the fourth-largest country in the world, with little to no decent rail infrastructure, hundreds of well-sized airports and home to four of the world’s five largest airline carriers, surely it should be convenient and affordable to traverse the US by air. Last year, over 727 million passengers boarded planes in America, nearly 640 million of them were heading for domestic destinations. Over 15 per cent of these travellers would face delays upon arrival.
Surely by charging extra fees for bags, flight changes and even for (at American Airlines) aisle seats, air fares should be down yet travellers last year paid 7.7 per cent more on average for a ticket than they had in 2010.
At JFK, one of America’s busiest hubs, nearly half of its departing domestic travellers choose to fly JetBlue. While the carrier doesn’t offer different classes of service, its modern terminal, free checked bag allowance and new aircraft offer passengers an alternative to the outdated service of America’s older carriers. However, although JetBlue now flies all the way to Bogotá, if I had booked my ticket to Dallas on the carrier last week, I would have had to nonsensically head north to Boston first in order to transfer to my flight south to Texas.
Airports such as Dallas Fort Worth, which occupies around the same square mileage as the entire island of Manhattan, may be becoming important global hubs, with recent daily direct flights launched to Sydney and Dubai, but many of its arriving domestic passengers will either have paid extortionate prices or circumnavigated the nation in order to get there. Popular fuss-free carriers like JetBlue should develop better direct flight networks to capitalise on the inefficiencies of older competitors. Then, if cities such as New York could just invest in good express trains to their local airports, flying in America would be half the headache it is today.