Flying low

The best time to buy plane tickets: Wednesday from midnight to 1am in the time zone of the airline's home base? Not sure if this is true, but I've heard it from a few people now.

I have to fly in a few hours, and with the current state of airport security procedures, what should be a happy event (traveling) sounds about as pleasant as a weekend getaway to Abu Ghraib. I'm referring just to the portion of my trip that begins and ends at the airport. As always on these security issues, Bruce Schneier is a voice of reason. Greg Palast provides a voice of biting humor on the same issue. Martin Peretz thinks we may have to turn to the procedures used by Israel's El Al airline. You don't have to remove your shoes or your laptop, but El Al puts all its passengers through a short interview before allowing them on the airplane. I can't imagine U.S. airports have the capacity for something like that, but it sounds interesting, like being screened by a Blade Runner.

I'm not going to waste energy fretting about dying in a terrorist attack (airline flight is still much safer than driving, among other forms of travel - PDF), but we're about a year or two away from having to fly practically nude. Airplane travel continues to grow more and more unpleasant, with no solution in sight.

A few months ago, when I was in E. Europe, I was pleased that so many discount airlines had launched in Europe. But now I'm back to wondering at how an entire industry can be so unprofitable while continuing to raise prices for a service that continues to regress in quality. Are the economics of air travel just inherently awful (except for the discounters who depart from the hub-and-spoke model like Southwest, easyJet, Ryanair)? Plane ticket pricing seems to float in a free market, so I'm assuming that airlines don't raise their prices and, in turn, the quality of their service, because these prices are the ones that maximize their profitability, and so this is all the quality they can offer. I'm assuming they're near the optimal intersection of supply and demand with their ticket pricing, but perhaps something else comes into play?

I wonder similar things about other industries. Why do all telecom companies have such shoddy customer service? What about the cable companies? What is it about certain industries that seems to drag down all the participants?