Between 2007 and 2017, the average fare between North America and Europe dropped by 40%. And, the desire by customers for “direct flights” also brought about change.
In 2000, airlines flew 1,414 direct international routes of more than 7 hours; by 2018, that had increased to 2,778 direct routes. One can hop on direct routes from Providence, R.I. to Edinburgh, Scotland, for example, as well as Los Angeles to Chengdu, China. In a recent piece in the WSJ, the delight of Evan Laskaris, a Greek-American living in Chicago, is chronicled, when he talks about the airlines’ new direct-flight travel itineraries. The piece describes Laskaris’ younger years living in South Carolina, where the trip to Greece required flying to New York’s LaGuardia, taking a cab to JFK, flying to Athens. Flying from Chicago has been easier but still, until recently, took 14 hours including a 3-hour layover in Frankfurt. There is now a new direct flight from Chicago to Athens on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner that takes 10 hours 40 minutes. Which brings up the fact that the new routes typically use the newer planes, such as the Dreamliner, that can fly just as fast as the planes of old, such at the Boeing 747s, but are less expensive to operate on a per-seat basis. Thus, making for two benefits: shorter flights and cheaper fares. The new planes allow airlines to offer multiple flights on routes that once justified only a single big aircraft, like the Jumbos/747s. Airline executives report that the smaller jets have contributed to today’s record profits. Load factor, a measure of the number of seats sold, should reach a record 81.9% this year, due to the fact that the smaller planes are easier to fill. According to the IATA (International Air Transport Association) the past five years have been the best for collective airline profits, despite the decline in airfares. The tradeoff, however, has been that economy-class passengers flying international flights in past years could look forward to amenities such as a meal served while on board and a bag checked free with the price of the ticket – and those are now add-on costs. And, international passengers are now frequently packed in as tightly as on short-haul fights within the Continental U.S. So, the new message is, “You get a little (shorter, cheaper direct flights) and you give a little (the amenities of old).” One frequent flyer has commented that, “Long haul travel is no longer a luxury; now, it’s like riding on a bus – it gets us from here to there – nothing else.” It has been 80 years since Lufthansa pioneered nonstop trans-Atlantic flight in a four-engine prop-driven plane – the trip from Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport to New York’s Floyd Bennett Field took approximately 25 hours. Twenty years later, the Boeing 707 was the first long-haul jet plane to be put into service, flying between New York and Paris beginning in 1958. Then the Boeing 747 began flying commercially in 1970 and became the epitome of long-haul travel over two decades. For modern aviation, the plane’s range has been dictated by how much fuel it could carry – thus, the bigger planes with bigger fuel tanks could fly longer. Then, in 2003, all of that changed, as Boeing developed its twin-engine 787 Dreamliner, partly made of composite materials, light enough to fly as far as a 747, but with fewer passengers: 242 passengers as compared to the 747’s 410 on board. And, the rest, as they say, is history – there will be only six 747s manufactured this year, and those will be used for freight hauling, not for passengers. The era of the 747 appears to be over and the future, as always, is wide open for new developments and improvements in the field of aviation.