✈ Standardised flight pricing - pros/cons/practicality. Let's discuss

We’ve been hearing about a lot of airline issues this week, which prompted some discussions about why or why not airline prices aren’t controlled in some way, for example such as they are with taxis. Obviously it’s a vastly different mode of transport, but with companies like Uber talking about joining the ranks of flight providers (as they have done for some time), the question remains - could we benefit from some type of standardisation of fare prices?

What would be the pros and cons? Would this apply to a domestic or an international market, and how do you think it could work? This is a big picture discussion, it doesn’t have to be perfectly implementable - and this space no idea is a bad idea, we’d love to hear your hypotheticals and to have a friendly and fun discussion!


A ‘throw away question’ was posed in another Qantas topic and I attempted to address it. Linking it in response to


Your taxi analogy doesn’t work. Taxi fares are regulated. Check out the Uber ‘surge’ pricing that is regular now that Melbourne is open again to sporting events.
Your 10k trip could easily be $100 in high demand times.

It does work in the context used, time and distance. Air fares have no or only passingly any relationship to time and distance. Even with surge pricing taxis are a time and distance proposition in a formula.


Come on. Be serious.
An aircraft with a given payload will use x amount of fuel per hour. A six hour flight will use six times the amount of fuel to deliver the same payload as a one hour flight. And fuel is by far the largest cost.
A six hour flight will use up six times the accumulated time as a one hour flight on engines before mandatory off-wing checks and maintenance are required.
Long flights will probably require multiple crews. Short flights just one.

1 Like

That is not necessarily the case because of the effects of climb, decent, and long haul flights cruise at higher altitudes where the airplane is more efficient, and the economics of turbofans versus turbojets versus turboprops versus piston all inclusive are complex where one type does not fit all service requirements.

Furthermore while fuel affects the cost of operating each flight when all of the costs of running an airline are amortised the overall P/L is more complex, as I tried to show.

I would rather not stay off topic more than my original analogy where I attempted to put some light on why regional flights are often so expensive, so will step back. Those interested in things maintenance could start here.


That is simple. Lack of competition. And generally aircraft that cost a lot, and carry few passengers and not much freight per trip. It would be considerably more per passenger per mile, than on a wide-body twin jet going the same distance with much cheaper per passenger per mile metrics.

And as for Qantas price gouging, the topic at hand. That is what happens when demand for flights is such that the airlines can withdraw the discounts they usually need to offer to get bums on seats in quieter times, and they can still fill planes at full list price.
The airline may even put on an extra flight or two for the extra demand. A half empty extra flight with everyone paying full list price is just as good as a nearly full flight with most passengers on big discounts.

Some might suggest this is a distortion. At one extreme we have Melbourne Sydney as one of the busiest flight routes in the world as a bench mark. Sydney–Melbourne back in world’s top 10 domestic routes – Australian Aviation
For Sydney and Melbourne to more distant locations, eg Gold Coast, Cairns, Perth the fares are also most often compelling low cost compared to other routes.

If there is an opportunity to gouge surely these are the routes to debate.

For lesser such as Brisbane to Mt Isa in NW QLD or Sydney to Broken Hill? Most would be greatful there is a service at all. The cost of a single service by Qantas daily such as it once was? It’s never about competition, but simply how few might choose to fly each day. I’ve flown legs in regional QLD and NSW with as few as a handful of passengers on the return flight. The good fortune being that the 4 or 5 of us did not need to pay for the empty 40 plus seats used on the fully booked prior leg. Would one call out paying a surcharge to cover the true full cost gouging?

The question at hand is should Qantas and it’s competitors be compelled to gouge on the high volume routes to cover the losses on those less used? In the early 20th century rail travel was the norm and the government’s exclusive domain. Freight and passenger services paid a flat rate per mile regardless of true cost of the service. The goal simply to break even across the whole of the network for the year on operating cost, capital excluded.

When flight became an option, only the very wealthy flew. It was a premium exclusive service delivered only where the demand could afford the true cost. This might include flying a near empty plane for the return. Perhaps that is not how we might want it to be, but it is now how it can be. Seats sold in advance against a balanced demand fill the plane both ways. Extra seats put on to meet a peak are likely in demand only one way on the day. Should one expect to pay less or more to cover the near empty return flight of your aircraft?

A high demand on a particular route, day and time is no assurance of a cheaper fare if there is no corresponding demand in return.


I wonder if anyone remembers the two airline policy days that finally ended in 1990?

Only two airlines, and strictly limited to two, were allowed to operate in capital city routes, and capital city to regional ports. Small regional airlines were allowed as long as they didn’t fly to ports the two designated big ones operated.
One was Gov owned TAA / AA, the other Ansett.
The fares, schedules, capacity were set by the Gov for TAA. Ansett was not allowed to undercut fares, or offer different schedules, or even offer better planes.
The only competition was in better food, or better sexier looking hostesses. Ansett won that one hands down.

Do we really want to go back to that?

And Gov owned Qantas was not allowed to fly anywhere domestically.
No other international airline was allowed to fly to Australia unless reciprocal rights were given to Australian airlines to their country. Well, we only had one doing international flights because both TAA and Ansett were not allowed to fly international routes because they were not in the international bilateral air rights treaties.

Do we really want to go back to that?


Melbourne Sydney economy fare was $49.10 at the end of 1979. I seem to remember Brisbane Sydney return was slightly dearer, approx $110 return or $55 each way. Whether one flew with Ansett or TAA was always a choice, although the cost was as suggested effectively the same.

I can remember well into the 80’s one could also ring up the airline the same day as a flight and ask for a flight change. All one needed was the numbers on the multipage printed ticket. The cost zero. The change usually relied on there being a spare seat, nothing more or less. One could equally bring a flight forward.

Were the aircraft always the same - not necessarily. DC9 vs Boeing 727 one such example.

The astute will notice I’ve left out reference to the affordability of air travel back then. The average weekly earnings in 1979 was reported as approx $120 per week before tax, ($6302 annually per ABS). The top tax rate was a very reasonable :roll_eyes: 60c in the dollar, and the nation led by Toorak born liberal Malcolm Fraser.

Which past to we wish to return to?
That regulation and market protection was supported by both sides of the political divide suggests forces other than voters were important even in those ‘good old days’.

Equally in trying to find a better solution for air travel and pricing today, the most recent debacle of nationwide economic services improvement the NBN shows just how far we have not come.


It may have been less affordable for the masses, but as a counterpoint it was sustainable (at least for 1 carrier at a time). When visiting in the 1980s and 1990s I always marvelled about how much better the air travel experience was across Australia (TAA, Ansett and the early days of QF taking over TAA) compared to the cattle car experience that had already permeated the US.

As for service and experience Ryanair demonstrates you can use and abuse your customers as much as you want and as long as your tickets are cheap enough they will come back for more abuse, again and again while whinging about how badly they are treated. A demonstration of what is most important to pax, eg $. Being able to contact the airline as a theoretical concept is down the priorities, at least until one needs to but cannot do it.

Premium economy on long hauls is essentially what coach used to be with similar pricing against prevailing income, with so-called business class usually reflecting that market position on domestic flights.


Australia also had a network of smaller airlines within each state, generally feeding in and out of regional hubs. Being able to cross state boundaries though seemed to be less readily accommodated. The outcome connecting between regional centres was always possible, but only at great expense and often inconvenience of flights that did not connect same day. The cost driven high knowing many of the smaller aircraft carried only a handful 2/4 or a few more paying passengers.

To the travelling plane buff a potpourri of choices including for the more popular routes a DC3 perhaps.

Tail end of a Lockheed Electra in the foreground and due warnings on the ear damaging blast/scream of modern jet engines.

Nearly all of the smaller carriers are now history, as are their pint sized and non pressurised aircraft. Comfort never assured as a hot summers day pushed hot thermals off the ground or storm fronts overhead.

The challenges that pushed these services aside remain. Aside from premium high volume routes the overheads conspire against cheaper travel. The cost of providing the ground services at low volume airports, plus regulated aircraft costs are just part of the explanation.

If we ever moved to a more “cost of fare regulated” air travel industry, let it also set a minimum standard of aircraft that assures equal comfort and service, if not speed. The difficulty will be if levelling of fares can be a practical solution. One can see the Melbourne to Gold Coast tourists complaining their not so low cost fare on a wide bodied jet is subsidising the well off Grazier from the west of NSW able to make the same journey to the Goldie via Broken Hill, Adelaide and Sydney at a slightly lesser cost, direct flight option.

Excuse the contrived scenario. Having flown Brisbane to Alice Springs a few times the options aside from the weekend were all multi leg flights via Sydney, or Melbourne or Adelaide or Cairns! One could say that each flight leg was priced approximately in line with the true flight miles. The one exception was the direct weekend flight, only marginally cheaper depending on demand. A second issue to address in any regulation asks how would one decide which routes to fly and in response to whose demands? Does one look to the needs of locals coming and going to make their locality more attractive as a place to live, or are the priorities of tourists and out of town business people put first. In the days of early rail travel the local politicians futures depended on serving their local communities above centrist government.

1 Like

Sounds like what if Airlines sold paint?:

Customer: Hi. How much is your paint?

Qantas: Well, sir, that all depends on quite a lot of things.

Customer: Can you give me a guess? Is there an average price?

Qantas: Our lowest price is $12 a litre, and we have 60 different prices up to $200 a litre.

Customer: What’s the difference in the paint?

Qantas: Oh, there isn’t any difference; it’s all the same paint.

Customer: Well, then I’d like some of that $12 paint.

Qantas: When do you intend to use the paint?

Customer: I want to paint tomorrow. It’s my day off.

Qantas: Sir, the paint for tomorrow is the $200 paint.

Customer: When would I have to paint to get the $12 paint?

Qantas: You would have to start very late at night in about 3 weeks. But you will have to agree to start painting before Friday of that week and continue painting until at least Sunday.

Customer: You’ve got to be …%^#@ kidding!

Qantas: I’ll check and see if we have any paint available.

Customer: You have shelves FULL of paint! I can see it!

Qantas: But it doesn’t mean that we have paint available. We sell only a certain number of litres on any given weekend. Oh, and by the way, the price per litre just went to $16. We don’t have any more $12 paint.

Customer: The price went up as we were talking?

Qantas: Yes, sir. We change the prices and rules hundreds of times a day, and since you haven’t actually walked out of the store with your paint yet, we just decided to change. I suggest you purchase your paint as soon as possible. How many litres do you want?

Customer: Well, maybe five litres. Make that six, so I’ll have enough.

Qantas: Oh no, sir, you can’t do that. If you buy paint and don’t use it, there are penalties and possible confiscation of the paint you already have.

Customer: WHAT?

Qantas: We can sell enough paint to do your kitchen, bathroom, hall and master bedroom, but if you stop painting before you do the bedroom, you will lose your remaining litres of paint.

Customer: What does it matter whether I use all the paint? I already paid you for it!

Qantas: We make plans based upon the idea that all our paint is used, every drop. If you don’t, it causes us all sorts of problems.

Customer: This is crazy!! I suppose something terrible happens if I don’t keep painting until after Saturday night!

Qantas: Oh yes! Every litre you bought automatically becomes the $200 paint.

Customer: But what are all these “Paint on sale from $10 a litre” signs?

Qantas: Well that’s for our budget paint. It only comes in half-litre. One $5 half-litre will do half a room. The second half-litre to complete the room is $20. None of the cans have labels, some are empty and there are no refunds, even on the empty cans.

Customer: I can’t believe this! I’ll buy what I need somewhere else!

Qantas: I don’t think so, sir. You may be able to buy paint for your bathroom and bedrooms, and your kitchen and dining room from someone else, but you won’t be able to paint your connecting hall and stairway from anyone but us. And I should point out, sir, that if you paint in only one direction, it will be $300 a gallon.

Customer: I thought your most expensive paint was $200!

Qantas: That’s if you paint around the room to the point at which you started. A hallway is different.

Customer: And if I buy $200 paint for the hall, but only paint in one direction, you’ll confiscate the remaining paint.

Qantas: No, we’ll charge you an extra use fee plus the difference on your next litre of paint. But I believe you’re getting it now, sir.

Customer: You’re insane!

Qantas: Thanks for painting with Qantas. We’ll get you painted from wall to wall in less than 7 days after we say we will. That’s what jobkeeper was for, Sir!


It began with TWA in 1952 but evolved to what we deal with from 1977, courtesy of American Airlines introducing the super saver with arbitrary restrictions.

I seem to recollect that US carriers faced harsher compensation rules for things like flight cancellations and delays than have been imposed on Australian carriers.
I’d like your comment on this please as a comparative @PhilT

1 Like

Depending on the issue ‘yes but no, and no.’

Oversold flights/bumping are very bad in the US.

Delays and cancellations are considered routine although there are some rules for refunds. I suspect the lightly lightly is from the routine seasonal bad weather that often grounds/delays flights with pervasive knock-on effects across that country.

As in Australia airlines will cover hotels and food in certain circumstances such as a flight having an overnight operational (mechanical) delay. The US technically does not guarantee schedules so in the event of late or cancelled flights, beyond the DOT rules above it is every airline doing it their own way.

A synopsis is in this recent NPR report (as close as the US gets to our ABC).

The EU probably sets the standard for holding airlines to operate on schedule with specific penalties legislated.

Choice reported 2 years ago including the comparison at the time noting Tiger is defunct absorbed into Virgin and Virgin itself has had a metamorphosis of its own so the report is aged now.

The laws and what if’s look convoluted enough from place to place that there are lots of companies happy to help with claims for a fee (30% of the refund company dependent). The process is no more and probably much less difficult than writing a Letter of Complaint and it is an opportunity for enterprising souls to skim money by providing a ‘valuable services’; with the posts about problems contacting airlines (ie QF) it might be good value if the pax is time poor or doesn’t want to deal with the frustration.

Problems with COVID-19 cancellations is the subject of other topics, this being one.


This is quite funny, if it is your work well done.

It is not saying anything about airline pricing though. It shows (once more) that analogies and parables are very poor evidence for anything. Producing a truly absurd story does not tell us anything about whether airline pricing is absurd because it says nothing about the key proposition that booking a flight is just like buying paint.


Well, luckily the key proposition was not that. It’s up to the reader to decide if there is a parallel with airline pricing, to enjoy it, or promote conversation. So 2/3 from you is not bad. Thank you.

1 Like

Surely want we want is unfettered competition. For instance, why must SQ after flying SIN-SYD return to SIN?

I bet that if SQ was allowed to fly say to PER or BNE it would be inundated with lax wanting to fly it rather than the obnoxious and rent seeking QF.

Once again you’re a mine of key facts. Thanks.

One thing that has not been addressed is why are pax in AU and for that matter, most of the world limited to travelling with 20kg (I am not allowing for paying more to carry more, I am referring to what traditionally has been the standard for baggage) where US pax can often take (slowly airlines are eating into this) 2 x 32 kg bags?

Does this reflect the relative power US pax had over airlines back in the day? As compared to the AU situation where 1x20 kg bag for decades was the standard allowance.

1 Like