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James Atlas has an online op-ed in The New York Times entitled “Class Struggle in the Sky.” It’s exactly what the headline implies: a lament over the economic stratification (or “statusization,” as the en vogue term would have it) that makes air travel that much more terrible. While Atlas complains in part that lower air fares have turned many coach-class trips into flying circuses, I, as a beer drinker, am quite happy about the trend toward lower fares over the last generation.

The deregulation of the airlines in the late 1970s, in fact, had a profound impact on what was then a fledgling American craft beer movement (an effect first pointed out to me by Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery, who, incidentally, has been spending a lot of time in Sweden opening that operation’s second brewery).

As I note in The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution, the deregulation allowed residents of midsize American cities, who had never had a direct flight before, to drive 30 minutes to the airport and then wake up less than half a day later in London, Paris, Brussels, Rome, etc.. I can remember as a kid growing up in Charlotte, N.C., the front-page news stirred by that city’s first direct flight to Europe: a seven-hour ride on U.S. Airways to London’s Gatwick.

The unprecedented opportunities afforded by cheaper fares surely helped expose more Americans to what were then considered the best beers in the world; and inspired not a few would-be craft brewers to finally turn pro. Remember, too: Most top-shelf European beer simply was not available in most of the U.S. in the late 1970s and early 1980s (indeed, in some parts, not until the new century).

Curiously enough, in a bit of serendipity, the federal government deregulated the airline industry in the same month that it approved homebrewing at the federal level: October 1978.
· Class Struggle in the Sky [NY Times]

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