From CNN's Carol Costello and Bob Ruff
Anyone out there old enough to remember the days when flying was fun and the airlines made you feel, well, special?
"The powder rooms," says this Pan Am commercial from the 1950s, "...look like those in a private home." The commercial shows smiling "stewardesses" attending to every passenger's need. Viewers are assured that "the travail has been taken out of travel."
Those WERE the days.
Today, not getting bumped from an overbooked flight and scoring an aisle seat are considered triumphs.
And airline profits seem as dated as that Pan Am ad (Pan Am went out of business in 1991).
The airlines are losing money hand over fist. Here's the roll call from the first quarter 2009:
High fuel costs are only part of the problem. People just aren't flying as much as they used to. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says so many people are in debt that, even if the economy improves, "a significant portion of existing income or any new cash could be used to pay down debt rather than spend and travel." Businesses too are figuring out ways to curb air travel.
So, are the airlines about to land on the same road that led GM and Chrysler to bankrupcy?
Airline analyst Mike Boyd of the "Boyd Group" says that while the airlines are in trouble, the industry is not likely to crash like the the auto sector. One big difference, he says, is that when passengers don't fly, airlines can simply park the unused planes. That allows them to cut flights, save fuel, and limit the damage. And that's exactly what they've done in the past when faced with significant losses.
But none of that means the airlines don't need or want help.
Rep. John Mica (R-FL) told CNN's Carol Costello that infusion of foreign capital could breathe new life into the airlines. Right now a 1938 law restricts the amount of foreign ownership of U.S. airlines to 25%. Mica wants to up that to as much as 49%, so long as American control is maintained.
The IATA's Steve Lott wants the Obama administration to help too. He says the administration has talked up rail transportation without doing the same for the airlines. "When the government is pushing so hard for rail when there is really not as much a demand for rail than air, we have a problem with that."
The Government's response? The Department of Transportation told us, "Aviation is an important sector of the economy, period."