I am a great believer in the value of "crowd sourcing," which is a concept gaining acceptance among those journalists who understand that the hidebound old way of doing business (running to the same tired sources for an "on the one hand, on the other hand" pile of 1,500-word irrelevance) doesn't work in a digital age.
Often, readers have more cogent things to say than the usual suspects we keep quoting. Often, they have more expertise. And the Internet gives us the ability to present an argument at length,
Anyway, Paul Ferber, a professor of political science at Rochester Institute of Technology, makes excellent points about the way major airlines have "outsourced" much of their flying to small regional and commuter airlines, some of which we board without having any idea of which corporate entity is actually flying the plane. He also has cogent things to say about the way the airlines have blithely cut service to many cities.
Here's Professor Ferber's e-mail:
"The tragic accident in Buffalo this past week should force us to reconsider the role of commuter airlines and prop planes in the commercial aviation picture. Have you noticed how fast Continental has danced away from this one? Sure, they stand by ready to assist Colgan Air in dealing with this accident, but they are also pretty fast to label this as an accident involving Colgan Air.
Perhaps they should be reminded of whose name was painted on the airplane.
As you may have guessed, I am no fan of commuter airlines, and almost never fly them, despite flying to the level of Silver Preferred on US Airways for every year since the late 1990's. But I am constantly amazed at how the majority of the traveling public has allowed itself to be bamboozled by the major airlines into being outsourced to a product that is inferior in everything from overhead baggage compartments to the safety record. Plus, these outsourced flights are flown by airlines that, in most cases, we have never even heard of.
There is some limited truth in the argument that some travelers have no choice, as detailed in the article in Sunday's Times. No choice that is, other than to fly or not fly. For some small places the only choice may be regional airlines or nothing. But not for places the size of Buffalo. The fact of the matter is that the major airlines would have no choice but to offer service with their aircraft and their employees if enough people refused to book these commuter flights. But people put low fares first, and sign up and line up for the puddle-jumpers.
I enjoy your column a great deal, and think it encourages people to give greater thought to various issues regarding commercial aviation. I hope that this accident prompts people to rethink their traveling priorities.
For me, I'll just continue to restrict myself to the one (1) US Airways flight out of Rochester, the 8:25 a.m. to Charlotte. Yes, they've reduced us to the point where we don't even have a single flight to Philadelphia, aside from those covered by the regionals. And when they get rid of the one flight to Charlotte, that will be the end of my days on US Airways.
United, AirTran, and JetBlue are realistic alternatives."