Planes vs. Trains

When I attended a school in New Hampshire and wanted to get back to visit my parents in New York there was no doubt that you took the shuttle between Boston’s Logan Airport and New York LaGuardia. The flights ran every hour and there was even a guarantee that they would roll-out another plane if the first one left completely full. The service was quick, the price was inexpensive and it felt as if you ascend to a cruise altitude and then immediately descend and land. Nothing compared to the speed and the ability to customize schedules. Reservations were not required, just good timing.

I read today in a New York Times article that USAir is disbanding its stationed shuttle pilots and ground personnel at both LGA and BOS. The new plan is to fly regional air jets that connect from other cities in place of the planes (larger Airbus planes) that simply ferried passengers between three cities (Washington, DC was the other option). Now the plane leaving Philadelphia to New York will need to be on-time in order to board as the equivalent of the “shuttle” flight to Boston. The prices has raised to beyond reasonable. In reality this has become just another flight with service a little more frequently as the heavily traveled New York to Chicago route.

By diluting the competitive advantage of owning the corridor now new forms of transportation have benefited. The Amtral Acela offers a variety of levels of service and in three hours and thirty minutes can have you from downtown New York to the Back Bay of Boston. I do not pretend to understand the airline industry but it appears that one airline’s demise is not really another airlines opportunity. Instead passengers are turning to other forms of transportation. In Washington, DC this summer I saw buses advertising $9 fares between the nation’s capitol and the Big Apple. When you start to calculate the cost and time associated with a tax to the airport, TSA screening, the less stripped-down flying experience, and then reversing the arrival scenario the move to trains and buses makes sense. Amtrak’s TV spot spends as much time knocking flying as it does promoting its product.

I would call this a sea change, a paradigm shift or at least an opportunity. What may take place in your sector that could make you wildly relevant or suddenly insignificant? Are you creating a future that includes your enterprise as a leader?

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