I just saw a story about a new airline called Skybus and another about a new air taxi service. Buses and taxis. I think this terminology is a telling sign of how air transit is stratifying to serve different economic classes.
The difference between the rich and the middle class used to be that the rich could afford to fly on commercial airlines and the middle class, by and large, could not. Airline deregulation in 1978 really opened up air travel to the masses, and the difference became that the rich traveled in the front of the plane and the rest of us in the back.
In today’s era of private jets and charter services, the seriously rich no longer use scheduled commercial airlines at all. And those of us who remain are going to be further divided into "bus" fliers and "taxi" fliers.
Bus fliers will be those who can’t afford standard airfares, or who would rather give up even the most basic amenities to travel more cheaply. And by cheaply I don’t mean Southwest Airlines, with the snacks and nice luggage allowance. We’re talking ultra-no-frills, with the very minimum level of service and charges to check luggage.
Taxi fliers will be those who can afford at least $1,500 a month for membership in a quasi-private form of custom air transport. This business model has not been particularly successful in the past, but as soon as rising incomes meet falling membership fees, it will start to work.
And so the last form of mass transit that most of us use, where we rub shoulders (quite literally) with people who might not be entirely like ourselves, is going to get even less egalitarian, more stratified and less diverse.
I think that’s kind of too bad.