You Nasty Creators of Consumer Surplus
By David Henderson
Longtime partners Alaska Air Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. are slugging it out in a battle for Seattle that is turning into one of the U.S. airline industry’s nastiest turf wars in years.
So reads the opening paragraph of a news story by Susan Carey in the June 30 print edition of the Wall Street Journal. The print story is titled “Delta, Alaska Air Wage the Battle of Seattle.” The on-line version is titled “Delta, Alaska Airlines Go to War Over Seattle.”
“Nastiest,” “turf wars,” “delivered a jab,” and “feuds” all appear in the piece. Over the years, I’ve noticed that many news stories about the competitive process use the language of battle. It is true that when company A starts to compete more with company B, company B is hurt.
But there are two interesting things to note. First, the competition is peaceful. How does Delta compete? By cutting off a horse’s head and putting it in the bed of the CEO of Alaska Air? No. It competes by offering more flights and by cutting fares. That’s not a battle or a war.
That leads to the second point. When Delta cuts fares, an important group of people whom Ms. Carey doesn’t say much about wins big: that group is passengers. I’m sure she understands that, and knows that most of her readers will also understand. Still, it’s interesting that this “feud” with “jabs” and “turf wars” is simply a peaceful process that helps consumers.