Good news: The airlines are doing better. Bad news: The airlines are doing better.
This is good news for the airlines, of course; they are in recovery mode and seeing what looks like their most profitable year since the horrendous slump after the Sept. 11th terror attacks.
The bad news is strictly for us fliers: Recovery means higher airfares, especially if oil prices keep rising.
I think we can guess some of the resolutions the airlines will be coming up with for 2011, and despite what leisure travelers like Elaine Key of Virginia Beach, Va., want -- "Get rid of bag fees!" -- fees are here to stay. Other resolutions the airlines probably have in mind are equally scary; again, strictly from the passengers' point of view. Here's my take on airline New Year resolutions, plus the direction they should heading in but probably won't.
Look for my personal plea to the airlines, airports, the Transportation Security Administration, and Federal Aviation Administration at the very end of this column. Hint: I'm a simple man and my needs are few, but on-time planes are one of them.
What are airline execs planning? Picture them examining their balance sheets then saying, "I resolve to …"
No. 1: Resolution: To Continue the Fee Gold Mine
You saw this one coming, and why not: The airlines made billions off bag fees and other extras this year, and you'd have to be nuts to cut off that revenue stream. The airlines are many things but crazy is not one of them.
I won't waste anyone's time by suggesting a resolution calling for an end to or even a reduction of fees, since I expect airlines will continue to raise fees, albeit with some discounting on the increasingly popular concept of bundling fees. Still, maybe they could also simplify things for the anti-fee flier: How about create a new class of travel called "Bare Bones"?
These BB passengers would purchase airfare and that's all they'd get: transportation from Point A to B. No checked-bags, no food, no blankets, no Wi-Fi, no nothing. And this is all made crystal clear to them before their credit cards are dinged.
One bright spot on the airline fee scene: With Southwest ("Bags Fly Free") Airlines' takeover of AirTran, there will be one less carrier charging for checked-bags.
No. 2: Resolution: To Maintain Merger Mania
You know the litany of recent acquisitions by now: Delta Does Northwest, United Covers Continental, Southwest Takes AirTran. Good for the carriers (or so they devoutly hope) but less good for you and me, since it destroys competition, and that never bodes well for cheap airfares.
There may be more to come, too: We're already hearing rumblings about Delta and Virgin Atlantic, and surely American will continue to keep its eyes out for a dance partner. You can't stop mergers, since carriers might otherwise go out of business, so this is a tough one. An idea: Any would-be Richard Bransons out there who would like to start a new airline or two?
No. 3: Resolution: To Keep Sardine Can Cabins