IT WAS INEVITABLE that some communities and some individuals would be hurt-at least temporarily-by the changes in airline service resulting from last year's deregulation bill. But it is too bad that Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd has already decided that West Virginia and his personal travel habits have been so adversely affected that he can no longer support deregulation.
Four airlines have cut back service to his state, Sen. Byrd said at a hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, and he is finding it more difficult to use National Airport for his frequent trips home. "A pound of flesh" is being extracted from West Virginians in the form of decreased service and higher fares, he told Civil Aeronautics Board Chairman Marvin Cohen, in order to benefit passengers who travel on longer, more popular routes.
There is at least one potential solution to the senator's complaints and he should give it time to develop before pronouncing the deregulation bill a bust. If the West Virginia cities he thinks are being shortchanged generate enough passengers, commuter airlines will spring into existence with flights to replace those the major airlines have canceled. At least, that is one of the theories underlying deregulation, and so far it has worked out in some other parts of the country.
There is the possibility, of course, that the West Virginia cities won't generate that many passengers. In that case deregulation will have demonstrated the degree to which passengers on other routes have been subsidizing excess service to West Virginia. This would not be pleasing to either Sen. Byrd or his home state. But the senator and his constituents would have to admit that it was the result of the workings of the good old free-enterprise system-not of some sinister plot on the part of the airlines.
If deregulation does put that kind of burden on West Virginia (and other parts of the country-Sen. John Stennis is also complaining about cuts in service in Mississippi), its harmful effects will have to be viewed against benefits conferred elsewhere. Mr. Cohen reported that deregulation has brought new airline service to 200 markets already, and has saved passengers about $2.5 billion in air fares in 1978. Not bad for a start.