Is Southwest Airlines failing California?

Does Southwest have a duty to offer cheaper flights within California? Photo: Southwest. 

Does Southwest have a duty to offer cheaper flights within California? Photo: Southwest. 

Is Southwest Airlines failing California?

Columnist Joe Mathews thinks so. Writing in Zocalo Public Square, Mathews argues that Southwest was once the Greyhound bus service of California -- a fast, reliable and cheap way for residents to travel between major cities. He does not like what Southwest has become.

But the glory days of Southwest, and of its power to connect the state, may be coming to an end. Once known for its low fares and high customer satisfaction, the formerly idiosyncratic airline, sadly, is becoming more like its more dysfunctional competitors. Bags get lost, more flights are delayed, fliers are irritated. And prices have risen well above bus-service level. Advance purchase one-way tickets in California are often more than $100 and walk-up fares now approach $250 each way.

Mathews understands that Southwest is a public company and can run the schedule it wants, but he seems unnecessarily critical of the airline for charging market fares. Southwest is, after all, not a public utility, and there's no requirement for it to offer cheap tickets. If customers don't like that, they can drive.  

Mathews make a plea for Virgin America to start flying more routes within California, but I do not think that's likely. I don't think airlines can command the fares required to make new routes work. "It’d be nice if Virgin America, headquartered in Burlingame, could step up and reduce our reliance on Texas-based Southwest," Mathews writes. "Virgin America’s pricing is similar to Southwest’s, but its California flights are limited to Palm Springs, San Diego, LAX, and SFO, the last an airport that time-sensitive travelers must avoid because of the frequent weather delays."

Ultimately, Mathews decides high-speed rail is the answer for ensuring Californian's have access to relatively inexpensive travel within the state. Of course, such a project will require major government subsidies. What do you think?