Why Flying Is Miserable

Why Flying Is Miserable
And How to Fix It

Why are the airlines always in a crisis?

Everyone has a horror story about air travel—cancellations, delays, lost baggage, tiny seats, poor service. In this day and age, there is no reason that flying should be this bad. In Why Flying Is Miserable, Ganesh Sitaraman, a law professor and policy expert, explains how this happened: It was a conscious choice made by Washington in the 1970s to roll back many forms of regulation that began during the New Deal, in the name of unimpeded capitalism and more competition. Today, the industry is an oligopoly, with only four too-big-to-fail airlines that have received billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts and still can’t offer reliable service.

Miserable air travel is the perfect symbol of the type of unregulated capitalism that America has unleashed. But there are ways to fix airlines—and, by extension, many other sectors of industry—because, after a half-century run, people are sick and tired of the turbulence that deregulation has brought to our economy.

Read CGR Director Nicholas Lemann’s Letter to the Reader

Why Flying Is Miserable
  • ISBN: 9798987053584
  • Price: $17.00
  • E-book ISBN: 9798987053591
  • On Sale: November 14, 2023
  • Pages: 172


“The definitive word on how American air travel devolved to its present sorry state and what can be done to turn it around.” Bloomberg Businessweek

“A fascinating history of modern capitalism, an investigation into the wide-ranging ripple effects of airline deregulation, and a clear-eyed call for action.” Salon

“With careful research and clear thinking, Sitaraman outlines a plan to ensure that the airline business works for everyone.” Kirkus Reviews

“An important book.... Sitaraman’s exploration is perfect for readers just beginning to question the costs and benefits of capitalism as well as those who are well-educated on the topic but looking for a deeper dive into the aviation industry.”
Shelf Awareness ★ starred review

“With characteristic intelligence and eloquence, Ganesh Sitaraman has given us a compelling case for reforming a key element of our economic and cultural lives: the air industry. This is policy argument that can make a difference. Highly recommended!” —Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and historian

“Whether it's the unreliable service, the massive bailouts or the combination of high prices and bad service, the airline industry has come to encapsulate all that has gone wrong in late-stage American capitalism. This book makes it clear we need to rethink how we manage the essential industries in our time and ultimately delivers an inspiring message: this is our country, and we can do better.” —Tim Wu, author of The Curse of Bigness, and former special assistant to President Biden for technology and competition policy

“With vivid examples and deft historical analysis, Sitaraman presents a surprisingly gripping account of the structural challenges behind the often-miserable modern experience of flying. His creative and compelling proposals for reclaiming public control over airlines provide an important vision for the future of aviation in this country.” —Shelley Welton, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

“Rules matter. Airline deregulation failed. In this clear and concise policy history, legal scholar Ganesh Sitaraman shows how regulatory capitalism worked, why it was abandoned, and what our future might hold if it were revived. For anyone interested in an accessible introduction to the Networks, Platforms, and Utilities (NPU) school of political economy, Why Flying is Miserable is the place to begin.” —Richard R. John, author of Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications

“This is the definitive discussion of the failure of deregulation, both as theory and as practice, using airlines as the emblematic case. Drawing on persuasive research, Sitaraman writes vividly for both the suffering consumer and the scholar, and offers ingenious policy alternatives.” —Robert Kuttner, editor of The American Prospect

“A highly readable dive into an industry we all depend on but have come to hate. Sitaraman offers a detailed analysis of how the religion of ‘deregulation’ and ‘free markets’ birthed the concentrated, expensive, and poor air service Americans have to live with today. The book offers concrete paths for solution, and a broader lesson about the benefits of well-regulated capitalism over its mythical big brother, ‘free market’ capitalism.” —Yochai Benkler, Harvard Law School, author of The Wealth of Networks


November 2023 Must-Read Books — Next Big Idea Club

Airlines Are Just Banks Now — The Atlantic

Why Airlines Don’t Fly to Your City and Other Problems Washington Caused — Politico

When air travel featured piano bars and champagne — CNN.com

Why flying is miserable — Harvard Law Today

Airport Hits Turbulence During Rapid Expansion — Nashville Scene

Ganesh Sitaraman Tries to Fix Flying — Nashville Scene

Flying is miserable. This author has solutions to fix it — Seattle Times

TV, Radio, & Podcasts

“Why Flying Is Miserable” Author Offers Solutions for Airlines and AI — Amanpour and Company

If you are flying this Thanksgiving, you'll want to read this book! — NewsChannel 5 Nashville “Talk of the Town”

Vanderbilt University’s Ganesh Sitaraman on why flying is miserable, ways to improve air travel — CNBC’s Squawk Box

Why flying is miserable: And how to fix it — KING 5 Seattle “New Day Northwest”

What’s Causing Those Airline Close Calls? — The Politics of Everything podcast

Why Flying is Miserable — The Politics Guys podcast

Why Flying is Miserable — Airplane Geeks podcast

Why Flying is Miserable with Ganesh Sitaraman — Flying Smarter podcast

Why Flying is Miserable with Ganesh Sitaraman — Pantsuit Politics

Why flying is miserable — Central Time (Wisconsin Public Radio)

What Deregulation Did to Flying — WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show

Why does flying have to suck? — NPR’s 1A

Flying has become miserable — but it hasn't always been that way — NPR’s Morning Edition

Hate flying? Blame deregulation — KERA Think

What if airline deregulation never happened? — The Chuck ToddCast

When Flying Got Miserable (1978) w/ Ganesh Sitaraman — This Day in Esoteric Political History

Ganesh Sitaraman on Helping Flying Soar — American Purpose’s Bookstack podcast

Why Flying Is Miserable (And How To Fix It) With Ganesh Sitaraman — Zero to Travel podcast

Why Flying Is Miserable and How to Fix It — Pitchfork Economics podcast

About the author

Ganesh Sitaraman
© Sandy Campbell

Ganesh Sitaraman is a law professor and the director of the Vanderbilt Policy Accelerator for Political Economy and Regulation. He is the author of numerous books including The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution and The Great Democracy. He was previously a senior advisor to Senator Elizabeth Warren on her presidential campaign and is a member of the Administrative Conference of the United States and the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee. He lives in Nashville, TN.  @GaneshSitaraman