(5 of 5)
When it comes to the food, let's just say you might want to fill up before boarding or carry on a picnic. As the economic pressures get fiercer, the quality of the food will get worse and more meals will be cold. Even getting a reservation agent on the phone could get tougher; you can read more of that book while you're on hold.
DON'T START IN FARGO
An air traveler's experience is going to depend more than ever on where the trip starts. The smaller cities that were the biggest beneficiaries of the hub system could well be among the principal losers in any industry overhaul. Cutbacks could be facing cities such as Albany, N.Y.; Fargo, N.D.; and Fresno, Calif. US Airways has said it will drop flights to Saginaw, Mich. Smaller, regional jets may help plug some of the gaps, but the economics of such planes require more business passengers and fewer tourists.
People who live near secondary airports around major metropolitan areas may be in luck, however. Discounters are increasingly breathing new life into less congested, long-underused airports, from Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn., to Long Beach and Oakland; JetBlue's successful move into Long Beach caused American to suddenly make its own big push for the onetime aviation backwater.
Amid all the upheaval, one thing seems certain: the airlines will probably leave passengers more confused and frustrated than they are today. "You get what you pay for. Southwest isn't a business airline. American is. But they're in danger of losing that distinction," says Chad Robertson, 25, a district manager for DaimlerChrysler who commutes once a week on American between Dallas and Texas outposts like Amarillo, Lubbock and Odessa. "The airlines may be hurting, but so are we."
--Reported by Sally B. Donnelly/ Washington, Cathy Booth Thomas/Dallas, and Jyoti Thottam/New York City