Air Service in the U.S.: Fewer Flights, More Inconvenience, Higher Costs.

The current issue of TIME has a very interesting story about the steady decline in air service across the country. And I’m not talking about the cramped seating or the grouchy flight attendants. As TIME reports, the airlines are drastically reducing the number of available flights in order to fill up fewer planes and make each flight more profitable.

And it’s working. Profits are up throughout the industry, which is one of the reasons the U.S. Justice Department has stepped in and blocked the proposed merger of American Airlines and U.S. Airways. The questions being asked by the feds are pretty simple: If you’re making money, why do you need bankruptcy protection? And if you’re not bankrupt, why do you need to merge?

Good questions. Especially so, when (a) many towns and small cities are seeing reduction or elimination of air service and (b) other air routes are heavily subsidized in order to preserve air service for those communities.

On a parallel course, the airlines have been increasing fares and adding fees — fees for checking bags, fees for making changes, fees for preferred seating — and cutting back on in-flight service. Between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland, Hawaiian Airlines still serves complimentary meals. But now, on American, we have to pony up ten dollars for a bag of trail mix or a turkey wrap.

How much more is the traveling public going to take? I recently wrote about the absurdity of American Airlines refusing to sell me an upgrade to first class because I was traveling on an economy ticket purchased with Aadvantage miles.

Here’s another one: I had to add a short flight to the domestic itinerary of my upcoming trip. Instead of flying from Jacksonville to Chicago, I want to connect with another flight at O’Hare and hop up to Rochester, Minnesota. American was going to charge me a change fee of $150 to add that one-hour flight.

So I bought a ticket. For 73 bucks.