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Fear of Flying (Without Bureaucratic Oversight)

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Middle Seat columnist Scott McCartney writes that “The rules matter because DOT is just about the only protection consumers have in U.S. air travel” (“An End to Airline Red Tape – Or Consumer Protection?” Feb. 7).

Umm, no.  There’s also this thing called “competition.”

Reasonable people can argue whether or not competition among airlines today could be made even more intense.  But as long as consumers are free to choose among today’s 12 mainline U.S. air carriers, as well as among the dozens of regional and commuter carriers – not to mention various surface-transportation options – competition is not only another source of consumer protection, it’s a far more nuanced and reliable source of protection than are diktats issued by bureaucrats with no skin in the game and who are subject to political pressures.

To the extent that airline competition today isn’t as intense as it might otherwise be, much of the blame falls on government – which, for example, prohibits foreign-flagged carriers from serving domestic routes.  And, irony of ironies, because mandates and prohibitions issued by bureaucrats increase the costs of entry and decrease existing airlines’ flexibility at optimally meeting the many dimensions of often-changing consumer demands, these diktats are among the chief culprits at muffling the intensity of competition.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030