Airlines, Portectionism, and the Shafted U.S. and Chinese Flying Public

In the Hutong
Contemplating my car’s dead battery
1103 hrs.
It’s winter again, which means it must be that time of year when the U.S. airline industry dives into yet another round of a game played on Capitol Hill called “We Should Get The New Air Route To China – And Not The Other Guys – Because…”

It is a battle that pits America’s giant, unwieldy, one-size-fits-all carriers against each other in a PR battle that enriches lobbyists and agencies and will result in the end in a handful of weekly flights between a U.S. city and either Beijing or Shanghai.

I won’t argue that ether Northwest, United, Continental, or American could make very profitable use of the routes. And if you’re an employee, shareholder, or frequent flyer of one of these airlines, the idea that one of them may get a new China route is probably appealing.

But to a lot of us, it means nothing more than just another bad choice when we have to figure out how to get to the U.S.

The fact is, given the choice, a lot of us would prefer to fly Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, All Nippon, Virgin, or any of a range of “third country” airlines from Beijing to the U.S. This kind of thing happens elsewhere in Asia: to give just two examples, third country airlines like Singapore fly direct to the U.S. from Japan and Korea.

The reason it can’t happen in China is simple protectionism – both China and the US are working to protect their flag carriers.

Argue if you will about the imperfection of market mechanisms, particularly in a developing economy. Regardless, plitics should not stand in the way of a superior product or service experience and consumers who are willing to pay for it. That’s a simple principle that should apply regardless of whether the product in question is a technical innovation or merely better service.