first majestic silver

A Flight of Fancy

May 26, 1998

It has been remarked that the elevator business has its ups and downs, and the same could be said (if you were totally devoid of any self-respect) of the airline business. It's a difficult business in which to consistently make a profit. So let's analyze the situation, and see where the problems lie.

It's pretty obvious that ticket sales are very profitable. An airline ticket can cost thousands of dollars, and is nothing more than a bit of paper with a few cents worth of printing on it. This is where airline profits are made. The airplanes themselves are horribly expensive, and require frequent expensive maintenance. Plus, hanger space must be rented or bought, crews must be paid, landing fees paid and fuel purchased, as well as insurance, etc. To make airline operation truly profitable, it just makes sense to eliminate these expensive aspects, while retaining the profitable ones.

I am suggesting, therefore, that the sale of airline tickets be encouraged and increased, if possible, while eliminating actual airplanes, pilots, mechanics, fuel, and other high cost items. A suitable name for this new, updated style of airline would be NoFly Airline.

For this new airline to flourish, however, would require certain actions by government, but this is not surprising, nor new. If you are aware of the operation of the food business, you know that Americans, thanks to government action, pay almost twice the world price for milk. Sugar sells, likewise, for almost half again what other people pay for it, because the government subsidizes sugar producers. It would be hard to come home from the market with a basket of food products which did not contain at least some items for which you paid extra, thanks to the protective policies of government. I am suggesting that this policy be extended to NoFly.

Here's how it would work: If you desired to fly from St. Louis to New York, you would go to the ticket counter of NoFly and purchase a ticket. If you were unfamiliar with the NoFly policy, you might, innocently, ask from which gate NoFly flew! "We don't have a gate," you would be told. "We don't have any airplanes." Imagine your surprise! "Take this NoFly ticket to any airline flying from St. Louis to New York, and it will be honored." And, when you try it, sure enough, it works! Why? Because NoFly's friends in Washington have declared NoFly's tickets a "legal travel tender" for use on any airline.

Initially, as you might imagine, the old-fashioned airlines (the ones with airplanes) might resent this plan. "Why should we fly these NoFly passengers, when they didn't buy tickets from us," they whined. But it was pointed out to them that they could, themselves, buy NoFly tickets, discounted to them by NoFly, and keep the profit. And, if the flight were on another airline, the profit would be one hundred percent. Suddenly, the NoFly tickets looked pretty good. It didn't take very long for the conventional airlines to realize that they were wasting money printing their own tickets. Why bother, when the NoFly tickets accomplished the same thing, and the airlines, compared to the flying public, could buy them at the discount window of NoFly? Soon there were no other tickets in general use except NoFly.

Savvy flyers and non-flyers alike soon realized that there was nothing new about this scheme. Admittedly, an airline ticket was, in fact, a sort of contract, or note, if you will, for which you paid, and which then obligated the airline to produce the transportation the ticket promised. The ticket, in other words, was an "obligation" of the airline. But how did you pay for your ticket? Well, you might have paid by check. Those numbers on the check represent "liabilities" of commercial banks. But no one expects the banks to give the check-bearer anything for their "liabilities." Of course, you can "cash" a check, and use this scrip to pay for your ticket; but in that case, you are buying the ticket with "obligations" of the United States, and it is perfectly obvious that the United States is not going to honor its "obligations" in any substantial way whatsoever. So it only makes sense to buy a ticket, or obligation for a flight on an airplane which doesn't exist, with "obligations" or "liabilities" which are never going to be paid. In fact, there's a sort of justice about it. Legal tender laws have the effect of forcing others to "redeem" the IOUs of the bankers; why shouldn't similar laws force airplane-equipped airlines to honor the tickets of NoFly?

Of course, NoFly would have to operate as a monopoly. If just any group of entrepreneurs without planes or pilots could start selling tickets for flights, there would be pandemonium. The old-fashioned airlines, with their airplanes and crews, etc., could never keep up with the demand for flights sold by equipment-less operators. So to prevent this absurd and unjust situation, the printing of airline tickets would have to be an exclusive franchise, probably requiring the passage of the proposed NoFly Airline Act. The purpose of the act would be to provide an "elastic" ticketry, thus freeing the traveling public from the rigors of a rigid, inelastic system limiting ticket sales to the number of seats available on actual airplanes.

At present, there is some opposition in Congress to the passage of the Nofly Airline Act from those hidebound reactionaries that automatically resist change. In fact, however, there is nothing in the Act which is not part of the daily life of Americans. We have become accustomed to having the grocer "redeem" the IOUs of the government or the banks. NoFly adds nothing new to this concept; it merely extends it to the airline business. Moreover, the role of government in facilitating this advance in society is nothing new; government is already involved in our lives in myriad ways, and the furtherance of particular corporate objectives via government action is old stuff.

Among the more progressive denizens of Washington it is already being suggested that the NoFly tickets be made a legal travel tender for any form of transportation, including busses, trains, or boats. After all, it isn't fair to liberate only the airlines from the constraints of an inelastic, seat-bound ticket system.

And isn't the NoFly concept in the best modern American tradition? The few fossils who object to it fail to realize that the government already pay farmers for not raising crops, and able-bodies workers for not working. NoFly is in this same well-established tradition. Furthermore, since airlines fly across state lines, interstate travel is involved, which is, by definition, a matter of federal concern. To limit an airline only to the sale of tickets for which it has actual seats on actual aircraft makes about as much sense as limiting the issuance of bank notes to banks which can redeem them.

There is no reason that the airline industry cannot
be brought to the same level of prosperity as the
banking industry, through the same methods which
are universally and accepted when applied to
monetary, as opposed to travel, "obligations." Let's
let the travel industry zoom into the 21th century!

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