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Nick Calio: The Democratization of Air Travel

It was on this date – October 24 – in 1978, when President Carter signed the bipartisan Airline Deregulation Act into law.

That legislative accomplishment was a victory not just for Washington, Congress and the administration – it also was a victory for consumers. That landmark act ushered in a new period of competition, accessibility and affordability.

When I was growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, traveling on an airplane was a luxury. It seemed like only the wealthy or business people were flying.

The good news is that deregulation changed all of that; it democratized flying.

Today, fares are at historic lows. The average cost to fly between New York and Los Angeles was $316 in 2017. Consumers can choose from a varied menu of destinations as well as a wide range of amenities to match every passenger’s individual needs and personal budgets. And consider this: 40 percent of air travelers have family incomes under $50,000 and 58 percent have combined incomes under $75,000. Today, nearly 90 percent of the people in this country have flown at least once in their lifetime, compared to only 63 percent in 1977. That’s truly remarkable.

The result of that accessibility and affordability can be seen across the U.S. and around the world. Every day, the U.S. airlines transport more than 2.3 million passengers, offer 27,000 flights daily and service 800 airports in 80 different countries.

Forty years ago, consumers could have never dreamed of overnight delivery of a package. Today, cargo airlines have changed global commerce, and the once-unheard of overnight delivery has become commonplace for millions of Americans.

Despite the ominous predictions of many opponents of deregulation, aviation safety has improved dramatically – we are indeed in the safest period in aviation history.

The Airline Deregulation Act has been a primary driver of this progress, enabling all Americans to enjoy the magic of air travel. America’s airlines have changed what is possible for millions of people, improving how we live, work and play. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of deregulation, it’s important to look at where we came from and how we can take the lessons from decades past and continue to strive for new innovations and an elevated customer experience in the years ahead.

This post was written by Nicholas E. Calio, President and CEO of Airlines for America.

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