I think this question is particularly relevant given the situation in Egypt right now. I'm hearing that one fairly likely consequence of such major Mid East turmoil is $5 a gallon gas prices in the U.S., and that's a full dollar a gallon over what has previously been accepted as a tipping point in this country.
When gas prices in America hit $4 a gallon, people changed their driving habits dramatically. At the same time, the airlines began adding extra fees that were supposedly due to the higher fuel costs. However, the gas prices eventually went down and, instead of dropping the fees, airlines started adding MORE fees.
There is a general dissatisfaction growing amongst the general public toward airlines because of all the new fees. If gas prices do indeed reach $5 a gallon on top of all that, then I believe we will see the first serious move toward efficient rail service in the U.S. in several decades. Additionally, there may be a quicker move toward more energy efficient automobiles than we've ever seen before.
So I believe that we are now getting closer to reaching critical mass in a change of attitude toward transportation here. Unfortunately, many cities may be slower in ramping up their public transportation services just because of the economy's recent effect on their finances.
But fifty years from now, I expect to see many more destinations available by high speed efficient rail service, more people using public transportation and many more fuel efficient automobiles on the road all over the country.
As far as airlines, I believe there will be far fewer than there are now, and the ones still in business will be those who manage to please their customers while maintaining the bottom line. Southwest will probably be the role model, since they operate the greatest number of flights and manage to remain profitable without charging extra for what used to be considered normal baggage.
It all comes down to how much people are willing to pay before they start to rebel.