Dear CEOs of AirTran (NYSE: AAI ) , Alaska Airlines, AMR (NYSE: AMR ) , Continental Airlines (NYSE: CAL ) , Delta Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue (Nasdaq: JBLU ) , Midwest Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV ) , UAL (Nasdaq: UAUA ) , and US Airways (NYSE: LCC ) ,
Thank you for your July 10 letter detailing the threat of rising oil prices to your businesses and our economy and for encouraging us to help you "Stop Oil Speculation Now." We have a few follow-up comments, questions, and suggestions.
First, we feel your pain. You have, historically, been a group of such well-run businesses that it's difficult to watch some of you pile up losses and flirt with bankruptcy. This is unprecedented in our economic history and the situation clearly requires urgent action.
Or not. Didn't Eastern Airlines collapse when oil was $12 per barrel? Come to think of it, U.S.-based airlines have eviscerated shareholder capital for decades. The Oracle of Omaha invested in U.S. Air one time, and has described the fact that he managed to make money as being indistinguishable from blind stinking luck (we're paraphrasing here). We even have a colleague who wrote recently that he wouldn't recommend airline stocks to his worst enemy.
So perhaps you shouldn't be blaming oil traders for your difficulties, but rather should focus on developing a robust, highly efficient industry based on the ideal of competition which ensures timely and enjoyable coast-to-coast (and even international) travel. That means, first and foremost, good service -- even for economy class passengers. After all, people will always need to travel. You might find out that airline passengers are more willing to pay up to fly (see the growth of a company like NetJets) when they know it won't be a dreadful experience.
But please let us know if your strategy works. We're pretty fed up with how the stock market has been declining recently. Perhaps we can convince Congress that the downturn threatens American savings and has been driven by "speculators" who are selling stocks without regard to their fundamental prospects and that we need regulations that will "Stop Stock Selling Now."
Yeah, that sounds like a foolproof solution.