It's a bit depressing to hear the constant reports of airline cutbacks and fare increases as oil prices soar and the world economy slows.
In this part of the world, for instance, Qantas has announced it's getting rid of 1500 staff (quite frankly, the last few times I've flown on Qantas, things already seemed over-stretched).
Air New Zealand is putting up airfares for transtasman and domestic flights by an average of 3 per cent and to North America, Asia and Britain by an average of 5 per cent.
Taiwan's EVA is stopping direct flights to New Zealand, Thai Air is expected to do the same and Malaysian Airlines is cutting the number of direct flights.
Needless to say, this isn't just happening Downunder. Airlines everywhere are tightening their belts and increasing their fares. As part of the cost-cutting, some passenger perks like in-flight magazines, free drinks and snacks are getting the axe.
Scariest of all, struggling US Airways has even announced it is cancelling its in-flight film service. That mightn't be a big deal as far as New Zealanders flying from Auckland to Wellington are concerned, but flights across the US are no doddle.
From Los Angeles to New York is 4000km - nearly twice the distance from Auckland to Fiji. How will passengers cope without Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes for company?
But the airline reckons it will save $13 million worth of fuel from stripping out all those heavy video units and several million more from not having to pay the film studios for screening rights, so anyone flying US Airways in the months ahead might have to learn to read.
So does all this mean the good times are over for travellers? Well, yes ... and no.
Obviously the cost of air travel is going up. But we have to remember it is happening after several years in which airfares have gone down by a phenomenal amount.
Statistics New Zealand's international air transport index has certainly climbed in recent months. International fares reached an all-time low in mid-2005 and the index has risen by 16 per cent since then. But fares are still lower than, say, at the end of 2006, 2004 or 2003.
Indeed, since Statistics NZ started measuring international air transport costs in 1981, they have risen by only 38 per cent, while the overall Consumer Price Index has jumped by 288 per cent. That's pretty amazing.
Even with the recent fare increases, the index is now slightly lower than it was way back in 1982. How many other commodities can you think of that now cost less than they did 26 years ago?
So don't abandon your travel plans because you think air travel is once again becoming a treat only the wealthy can afford. That's not the case. It's still cheaper to go overseas than at almost any time in history.
And, better still, because of all the wonderful competition in the aviation market - with the likes of Qantas, Air NZ and Emirates all scrapping for customers - there are plenty of bargains to be had if you can be flexible about when you travel.
This is a great time to head for Rome or Tahiti or Santiago or Delhi or ... anywhere. Bon voyage.
- Jim Eagles