Airlines have so reduced their routes and seating capacities that the travel story of the new year is going to be the higher costs and sharply increased difficulties of getting there from here.
Even as fuel costs have tumbled, airlines are tightening the screws on the flying public, which they figure will now put up with just about anything. (Though once we have a look at passenger traffic data for December, we'll see just how much air-travel demand is falling, and will continue to fall in 2009).
Here's an example of the current mess: I need to get from Tucson to the ridiculously named George Bush "Intercontinental" Airport, preferably early in the morning of Jan. 7, in time for a 10.30 meeting at the airport.
That's about 900 miles, incidentally.
No can do. Instead, I'll need to fly in the day before and spend the night.
Fares? On Orbitz.com just a few minutes ago, here was the range among various airlines for that one-way flight (all requiring stops): $1,124 to $489.
Southwest Airlines, not listed on Orbitz, came in at a more sensible $226, but it requires a stop in Los Angeles and it arrives not at Houston Intergalactic (oops, I mean "Intercontinental") but at Houston Hobby Airport.
Why not consider the option of taking the train, as so many people are suggesting these days?
Ha-ha: The best Amtrak can do is get me from Tucson to Houston on Jan. 8, and the trip requires 26 and a half hours. The fare is $115 for a seat, and $891 if you want a sleeping compartment.
And how about the bus? Well, I can board a good old Greyhound at 6:30 a.m. on the 6th and arrive in Houston a mere 26 hours later, after transferring buses in El Paso and again in Dallas.
And sorry, but I can't get it out of my mind that during the summer, shortly after Greyhound began a marketing campaign saying there is no "air rage" on the bus, a lunatic on a Greyhound bus in Canada literally chopped the head off a sleeping passenger.
Hey, if that can happen in peace-loving Canada, no way I'm taking my chances in the middle of the night in El Paso.