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The Long and Arduous Journey of the Airline Industry May be Reaching an End

The government deregulated the airline industry in 1978. Since that time, the basic pricing in the industry, as well as airline fortunes, have been more or less continuously on the downward slope. It has been a very long trip down.

The industry may be heading up again, though. In the third quarter of 2010, the average domestic airfare was 11% higher than a year earlier. Profits returned to the industry in 2010 behind higher prices. In some part, these higher prices were the result of the additional fees that most of the domestic carriers charged passengers for checked baggage, better seating, rerouting and so forth. Still, the industry was able to hold its higher prices.

These prices are holding because the major industry players are less enamored of discounted flying. All of the big airlines are finding ways to extract prices from industry customers. Now that airline capacity utilization is high, the industry is more careful about capacity additions. Higher prices are here to stay.

The consumer still is far ahead. Even at these higher prices, ticket prices are a bargain. In fact, ticket prices, adjusted for inflation, are 20% below the levels of 1995. The industry has continuously stripped benefits from the base product in order to save costs. In 2010, the industry added back a few of those benefits (for example, economy plus seating) for an additional charge. We may see more of that over the next few years.

We have studied several thousand examples of companies both reducing and raising prices. In 2010, the airline industry raised its prices by adding fees. For many innovation ideas and real world examples of how to raise prices, visit Improve/Pricing/Raise Price Directions on StrategyStreet.com.

Posted 3/10/11

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