Column: Detroit needs choices besides Delta

Dennis Lennox

Detroit deserves more than Delta Airlines. While not the hometown airline, Atlanta-based Delta is more often than not the only choice out of Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Sure, there’s some competition — Spirit is Detroit’s second-biggest carrier — but it’s not enough. Business travelers and those flying internationally are often forced to pay double what it costs to fly out of Toronto and Chicago.

For perspective let’s look at a hypothetical trip to London in mid-May. Round-trip, non-stop economy-class airfare on Delta is $1,334, according to a Google Flights search. Flying Delta for the same dates out of Chicago returned an airfare of $671 with a connection in New York. With the $663 savings, I could fly to Chicago and still have plenty of money left to either spend in London or, better yet, save toward a future trip.

Delta’s monopoly in Detroit was guaranteed after the merger with Northwest Airlines 10 years ago.

The monopoly is obvious when you consider the fact that southeastern Michigan is home to one of the largest Middle Eastern communities outside the Middle East. Presumably, this would make Detroit’s airport attractive for Emirates, Qatar or Etihad, the Middle Eastern airlines known for their lavish premium classes of service. Perhaps even Turkish Airlines. Yet, the only option is a Royal Jordanian flight that first stops in Montreal.

When Qatar expanded to Atlanta, Delta responded with vengeance by cutting ties with a community theater that took money from the airport’s newest airline.

Delta only tolerates competition from the likes of American and United, which have their own regional monopolies thanks in part to airline mergers.

The monopolies are also backed up by something called cabotage, a mercantilist federal regulation that denies consumers choice by generally prohibiting a foreign-flagged airline from flying between two U.S. airports. This makes it unlawful to fly Air Canada from Detroit to Boston through Toronto.

More egregiously is the fake news that Delta publishes about the Middle Eastern airlines for purportedly receiving subsidies from their respective governments. Never mind the fact that Delta, American and United have received over $71 billion in government subsidies and crony-capitalist tax breaks since 2000, according to research from 2015.

Despite benefiting from regulation and subsidies Delta didn’t even buy American when it came time to replace the Boeing 747 as its flagship. Instead, it went with European aircraft maker Airbus.

Delta’s hypocrisy is evident in its extensive partnership with China Eastern, an airline owned by the communist Chinese state. Coincidentally, the partnership was expanded around the same time that Delta gutted its presence in Tokyo and ended service to the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Marianas as well as the Pacific island of Palau. All three islands are pivotal in a region where Chinese expansion and aggression is on the rise.

Despite all this I continue flying Delta — last year I did over 175,000 miles — because it’s the best major U.S. airline. Detroit’s airport would be better and Delta would be better if consumers had a real choice. Until then, consumers pay the price.

Dennis Lennox is a political commentator and public affairs consultant.