Shutdown kicking airlines when they’re down, but passengers feel the pain

The government shutdown is causing plenty of problems. The one that is worrying us at this hour is the chill it’s putting on the airline industry at a time when revenue was already cooling.

Ahead of the shutdown, airlines were heading into the sweet spot of the industry’s normal economic cycle, that point where carriers add too many flights and passengers delight in a bonanza of travel discounts.

And more capacity was in the works, with Southwest Airlines on the cusp of an industry-shaking plan to fly to Hawaii. Too bad the shutdown has halted these plans.

Shares of several U.S. airlines have dropped this week, as investors anticipate more bad news. Around 10,000 U.S. air traffic control employees are working without pay. Transportation Security Administration agents are working without pay; or, as the case may be, calling in sick without pay. Some airports are closing some security lines, and lines are long. The effect will ripple throughout the land if long lines cause flight delays, possibly even affecting airports where TSA agents soldier on. And let us hope that withholding pay from TSA agents only affects airline economics and passenger stress; the consequences of reducing aviation security could be deadly. The irony, of course, is that the shutdown, prompted by political fights over immigration and border security, could reduce security at the airports, where most immigrants enter this country.

All of this amounts to economic contraction that we hope is temporary. Put us in the category of fierce free-marketeers who are generally skeptical of regulation and government intervention. But here we see what happens when government shrinks suddenly and indiscriminately. A well-regulated industry is safe, reliable and prosperous. Aviation regulation is a vital government function that, when done properly, can broaden economic horizons. We have a few simple words for federal lawmakers: Shut down the shutdown fight.

— Dallas Morning News


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