Remember the year 2000? The airlines do. That was the last year airlines as a group were profitable. The subsequent years were miserable for the industry, pummeling the airlines with $40 billion in losses and forcing some of the largest carriers into bankruptcy.
The past five years have been bad ones for travel consumers as well. Although fares plunged to historic lows as airlines scrambled to fill their planes, some of the savings on ticket prices were offset by a barrage of nasty "service fees," most for services which historically had been included automatically in the base price. Travelers appreciated the low fares, but felt gouged by the airlines' nickel-and-dimeing and the cut-to-the-bone service. Lately, long security lines and full planes have combined to make flying an exercise in frustration and discomfort.
Since bad times for the airlines have gone hand-in-hand with bad times for their customers, it's tempting to suggest that fliers can expect an improved travel experience when the airlines' fortunes improve.
That proposition may soon be reality-tested. According to an interview with airline-industry analyst Ray Neidl audio-streamed at MarketWatch.com, the entire airline industry is on track to post a modest profit for the year.
Time will tell whether what's good for the airlines is also good for their passengers.