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All right, nerds of LiveJournal, I need you to come to my aid. I have a question I have been unable to find an answer for, and I'm too busy to do the kind of in-depth research that would net me the definitive dope, so I'm hoping one of you know. I think I read an article about this in a recent issue of the Economist, but I was pilled out of my skull and I don't remember the details.

The question is this: Why do connecting flights on an airline trip cost less than direct flights?

It doesn't make any sense, either for the consumer or for the airline. Connecting flights cost a lot more -- in terms of time, manpower, resources, fuel, every measurable economic metric I can think of. It would seem to be economically unsound to charge less for connecting flights. And yet, that's the standard in air travel. Can someone explain this to me? Much obliged.

Comments

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thedogowner
Oct. 27th, 2008 11:52 pm (UTC)
On the surface, it doesn't seem to make sense, but here's a quote that seems to address it:

From http://www.psc.edu/science/Spiller/spiller.html

With the freedom brought by deregulation, the airlines quickly embraced hub-and-spoke network structures. As the industry learned on a limited basis prior to 1978, when a direct-route system was the norm, funneling passengers through a central location, or hub, where they can pick up connecting flights, offers the most logical means of moving large numbers of people to many cities many times a day.

Concentration of staff and aircraft at a hub often results in a carrier offering more departures to more destinations than carriers that base their operations elsewhere. Critics view this as behavior calculated to eliminate competition, and they charge that hub carriers have unreasonably high operating costs. Unlike other analyses, however, Spiller's study differentiates costs from markup, and the results show that at a given airport, a hub carrier enjoys 15-20 percent operational savings per passenger over a non-hub carrier at the same site. As its proponents argue, therefore, deregulation has fostered efficiency. "The critics," says Spiller, "are suggesting that the government tinker with the very structure that is allowing these savings to occur."


See also:

http://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch3en/conc3en/hubspokederegulation.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoke-hub_distribution_paradigm

http://science.howstuffworks.com/airline3.htm
fiberpunk
Oct. 28th, 2008 03:01 am (UTC)
Yeah, I don't know very much about the airline industry, but one of the things that I work on involves sending a traveler to collect items from a bunch of necessary locations on his way to a certain point. It turns out that a nontrivial portion of the time, the most efficient move is to actually add stops in the path so that the traveler can collect more resources along the way.

This is one of the reasons why everything you order online goes through Kentucky (check out your UPS package tracker sometime).
roseyv
Oct. 27th, 2008 11:55 pm (UTC)
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/04/business/04point.html

Apparently, it is an incentive to fliers to choose connecting rather than non-stop flights, which are a more efficient use of the airlines resources (although as far as I can tell, this is only in the sense that "we spent billions to fancy up these hub terminals, so we better use them to make it worthwhile.")
feisty_robot
Oct. 27th, 2008 11:55 pm (UTC)
The short answer is: maximizing the use of your planes. Airlines have to move a lot of people to lots of different locations. It's much easier to do this, and do it with fewer planes, if you move people in batches between waystations. If you have only direct flights, those flights will either be largely empty (how many people want to fly precisely from San Francisco to San Antonio each day*), or very infrequent (i.e. wait until the plane is full). By chopping each larger route up into a bunch of short hops, you can maximize the fullness of your planes, as well as ensure that all the planes are in the air all the time.



* Nobody, that's who.
andieflynn
Oct. 28th, 2008 12:13 am (UTC)
According to my darling, former long-time airline reservations employee:

Airlines are chosen by schedule first, then price. Non-stops typically are scheduled at heaviest demand going and returning and people (business people) were always willing to pay more to get there, get it over with and get home. An airline who has a non-stop can charge a premium for it.
(Deleted comment)
pr1ss
Oct. 28th, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
The entertainment derived by airline executives by inconveniencing you and by doubling your risk of death in a fiery crash, loss of luggage, hijacking, and airsickness is worth their slight loss of revenue.
conrad_zaar
Oct. 28th, 2008 06:24 am (UTC)
It's to make up for the fact that even if you make it to your connecting flight, your luggage probably won't.
calamityjake
Oct. 31st, 2008 12:04 pm (UTC)
Jews.
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