The more I researched and placed calls regarding the airline industry's tough times ahead, the more I realized what a fragile state it's in.
I called a source within the industry on my way home from work the other day for an "off the record" conversation. I told him what I was writing about, looking for someone to talk me off the ledge and say everything will be OK. The data I had been collecting, though, was screaming "Jump!"
"It can't be this bad, can it?" I asked. "The situation will level off in time, right?"
His response: "It's probably even worse than you think."
I read every national newspaper I could that night. Enter depression.
The New York Times estimates 100 cities will lose regular air service because the cost of jet fuel has increased 80 percent in the past year. Then American Airlines cut 28 flights from its Chicago-O'Hare Airport Hub. Then Delta Air Lines announced it will charge an extra $50 fuel surcharge when frequent flyer tickets are purchased.
Recognizing a trend yet?
This isn't just a national crisis either. Chinese airlines announced they would raise fuel surcharges up to 50 percent to offset high oil prices.
Anywhere you look, airlines are spiraling downward. It seems only a matter of time before many of them simply crash and burn.
The answer for many people in the lower 48 states is simple. They'll quit flying altogether. But those of us living in Southeast Alaska have quite a conundrum on our hands.
Sure, it's easy for many to gripe about Alaskan Airlines' monopoly here, but without the airline who would import and export goods, fly the ill to Seattle for medical treatment? But most importantly, how do we get to the continental United States without taking a week long Canadian vacation along the way? And let us not forget that not every tourist visiting here travels by cruise ship.
Alaskan Airlines said it isn't cutting back flights in Alaska, yet. But where you see smoke you can bet there's fire nearby. If other communities are feeling the heat, you can guarantee it's only a matter of time until things get scorching hot here.
Big oil companies are getting used to stuffing their pockets by selling crude oil at $130 per barrel, and recently for as much as $140. Sure, they could still make a profit by cutting the cost in half, but we all know that won't happen. I doubt we'll ever again see gas prices drop below $4.
I'm usually not one to dole out condolences to big businesses, but I can't help but feel a little sympathetic for airlines. They're not trying to prey on consumers for the sake of a fat belly - they're merely trying to survive hard times.
From what I've heard, Alaskan Airlines was one of the strongest in the pack prior to 9/11. Now it, along with the other major airlines, will have to readapt to survive. Extra service fees for baggage, etc., will only cover a small portion of the added fuel prices.
A consumers' rights group in Washington D.C., called the Business Travel Coalition, is spearheading a push to get Congress involved now before airlines have no choice but to ask for another government bailout. What they need is for consumers to write their representative urging a sit-down to find a solution.
It's in the best interest of anyone who has flown, or will fly in the future, to speak up before options start dwindling. A cutback in Southeast would be an inconvenience at the least, and catastrophic at worst.
To learn more about supporting regional airline services visit www.savemyairport.com.
Charles Westmoreland is managing editor of the Capital City Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.