The birth and growth of commercial airline transportation has spawned and bred a fair number of strong, individualistic, shrewd, indefatigable men: Juan Trippe, Eddie Rickenbacker, William A. Patterson and their ilk. One of these is Sir Freddie Laker of Great Britain.
This book recounts the history of his efforts in the air transport industry, from the days after World War II when Laker, like so many others, scraped and scrambled to turn a dollar with the plethora of military aircraft that were available for a song, to his comparatively recent unique achievement, the Skytrain. The authors, a pair of business journalists for London's Sunday Times, have given a detailed account of the ups and downs of Laker's trail through numerous ventures from modest to immense.
Fortunately, they have chosen to show us, rather, than merely narrate, what makes Sir Freddie run. The profile that emerges is of a man with a bluff and witty exterior buttressed by a dauntless one-man-show interior, who courted success repeatedly, and won more than his share. But it is likely that the book would never have been writen had not Laker persevered in his lonely efforts to buck the world's largest business cartel -- the International Air Transport Association -- and establish the most economical long-distance airline fares in history.
His concept was nothing very new: The first rule of the airline business is a simple one. Establish a break-even load factor at a fixed ticket price, and exceed that factor to make a decent profit. Traditionally, and apart from the occasional "special fares" which are generally designed to get passenger attention to a given airline along a competitive route even if a loss is generated in the process, these load factors have been pegged at 45 to 60 percent of seat capacity. In others words, passengers were paying most of the time for the seats they occupied and for part of another one.
In Sir Freddie's view, this inefficiency was effectively denying to many lower-income wage-earners the right to fly. He reasoned that if he ran a "train," where passengers stood in line for a seat until that seat became available, he could all but fill his planes most of the time. This would drastically reduce individual fares by spreading the cost of the flight over many more tickets, and bring travel costs within the reach of many new passengers.
His efforts to implement such a scheme were viewed as an enormous threat by his competitors, and they opposed him en masse. Most men would have perceived frightful odds and an awful risk of financial ruin, and looked elsewhere for a new enterprise. Had Sir Freddie foreseen just how long it would take it see his dream service launched, he might have tabled the idea. But being an incorrigible optimist, he forged ahead. After plowing through the British bureaucracy and its American counterpart, both of which smote him repeatedly with their principal weapon -- doing nothing for months on end -- he finally, in September 1977, saw his dream lift off the runway. He was knighted the following year.
Sir Freddie's bottom-line contention -- that he would not be taking passengers from his competition, but merely adding to the existing passenger community with his low fares -- can probably never be tested. For very shortly after his service started, all airlines were deregulated and low fares began to appear in every quadrant. Nonetheless, his contribution to airline history is a real one, and this account of how it came about makes a fascinating tale.