United Airlines' (NYSE:UAL) passenger disaster earlier this year drew tons of attention to the controversial issue of overbooking, to the point that airline executives were brought before Congress to speak about it.
In this Industry Focus: Energy segment, our analysts follow up on the United story and take a look at a few less publicized changes going on in the airline industry and how they'll affect consumers and investors going forward.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Dec. 21, 2017.
Sarah Priestley: Another headline that I had completely forgotten about until we did a show recently, but the United Airlines flight. David Dao, the passenger on the flight who was forcibly removed from the plane after the airline asked four passengers to leave so they could accommodate United staff, who needed to be transported for work. So this was a shocking story, and it led to a tirade of all these other stories coming out. Anything the airlines did for a while didn't seem to be enough. But it raised a lot of questions about the practice of overbooking. Airlines execs were pulled before Congress. Though no fine was levied, it has changed a lot of policies with regard to overbooking. So, interesting, an interesting consumer stance against a widely consolidated industry. I mean, consumers don't have much choice. I have to fly a lot, so I know that really, there isn't much between them. So this was kind of an interesting opportunity for consumers to really air their grievances, but it did raise a lot of very serious questions. The stock, though, declined about 1% on the news. By the end of the next month, it was down about 4%. But just one month later, in May, it was back up 12%. [laughs] So people's memories are short, apparently.
Taylor Muckerman: They are. It seemed like, in 2017, you weren't a cool kid on the block unless you ripped a passenger off an airplane, because basically every airline did it. I think it was the power of social media, and then it was also the power of overexposure. People were like, "Oh, well, we've seen that before." In some cases, it was the passenger's fault, so it diluted the shock and awe of what was happening with that. Another industry that's benefiting from low oil prices. I know they're all hoping that OPEC continues to flounder in its efforts to boost the price per barrel, because they're all now price competitive. You see Spirit Airlines is an airline that's being hurt by that, because they were one of the no-frills airlines here in the United States and always had the lowest price, or tried to. And now that these big guys that still keep, they don't charge for every bag, they still hand out some food and water on the plane, because of low oil prices and their scale, they can now compete with price with a company like Spirit. So definitely an industry that hopes the price per barrel stays where it is, or maybe tracks a little bit lower.
Priestley: Yeah, absolutely. Year to date, it's worth mentioning, United are down. But this is more on strategic concerns. But it raises a lot of questions. There's a lot of unbundling going on with what used to be the higher-tier packages, so you have competitors coming in now like WOW Air, Icelandair, who are unbundling. So, no, you don't get your checked bag. You don't even necessarily get carry-on luggage. There's no TVs. There's no snacks, and all those kinds of things. And I think United really botched its rollout of basic economy fares, and that's led to a lot of questions about the long-term viability of how competitive they can be, when you have these new entrants in the market.
Muckerman: They did kind of receive a boost recently. I believe, in the last couple of weeks, the Trump administration retracted a regulation set in place by President Obama where airlines were forced to disclose baggage fees when you're buying the tickets. So that is now no longer the case. So they can hide a little bit more of the cost while you're searching for the flight. Obviously, you have to disclose it when you're buying the ticket. But it makes searching for flights a little bit more complicated.
Priestley: It's interesting. We all need to learn to pack more lightly. [laughs]
Muckerman: Yeah, eventually, you're going to pay for your bag no matter what, because it's becoming industry-standard. So yeah, either pack more lightly, or even maybe ship some things to where you're going. It might be cheaper.
Sarah Priestley has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Taylor Muckerman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Spirit Airlines. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.