Well-intentioned petition may drive away competition and maybe even United itself

By Mabel Doge Luhan

Have you ever contemplated the vastness of the universe? Why, these are distances that even MVA couldn’t travel!

We sometimes forget that here in Saipan we’re just a tiny speck in the ocean in a vast world and a vast universe! Isn’t that so interesting?

But when we forget that, and start thinking we’re the only game in town, we start having thoughts like those in the recent petition demanding for United to reduce its Guam-Saipan airfares. 

That petition sounds good enough. We all want lower airfares to Guam. And we want to get them. And if the government works for us, it should go get those lower airfares for us.

It’s always good to get your facts straight (unless you’re the Marianas Variety), and this petition falls short. The lowest available fare is not, as the petition claims, “$580 for a 25-minute flight.” Sure, you can find that fare, but that doesn’t mean it’s the lowest available fare. In fact, I just pulled up Compuserve to check the airfares, and United is selling a $299 roundtrip between Saipan and Guam. Maybe that’s expensive, but it’s not $580 for a one-way flight. And facts are important. (If you have trouble accessing this fare, please see Kandit’s tutorial here: https://kanditnews.com/the-secret-to-reducing-your-round-trip-ticket-cost-on-united-for-guam-and-saipan-travel/)

And then there’s the expectation that the airfare should be for “the actual distance traveled.” Except a 737 isn’t a taxi. At no time or place in the world have airfares ever correlated with distance traveled. It’s not a taxi. You can certainly demand that kind of pricing, but the airlines would never go along with it, and it makes absolutely no sense. It’s like asking that restaurants set prices based on the weight of their food.

The fundamental fact the petition seems to forget is United is not required to fly this route. We’re just a tiny route on a tiny island, and if we hassle them too much, they won’t give us free travel and a pony (we’re not MVA, after all) — they’ll just leave the market. And leave us with no air service at all. They can do that, you know. 

People who have spent all their lives in the CNMI tend to think that companies like United have to play by our rules. But they don’t. They can just leave.

Didn’t we see that with JAL? While the motivations may have been the opposite — JAL was chased out by rent-seeking gangsters in tropical prints, while the current petition comes from someone with a long history of impeccable ethics and only the best intentions — the result will be the same. There will be a nondescript press release one day saying that the airline is discontinuing the route. And that’s it. 

The problem with the petition’s demands for government interference is not only that such interference might chase out United. The bigger problem is that it might chase away any competition.

A high price being charged for something is a broadcast signal heard all over the world: “there’s money to be made here.” Again, if our worldview consists of only the CNMI, we don’t realize that. But those “exorbitant” airfares are watched closely by every airline in the world — and somehow, no US airline has decided that it could profitably provide the same service cheaper. Because if it could, it would. 

But forcibly lowering the airfare, or otherwise interfering with United’s business, will announce to the world what the CNMI has always been announcing to the world: “If you come to do business here, we will harass you and shake you down as much as we can. Our population doesn’t have much spending money, but we sure do have a lot of demands, and a government eager to please voters at any economic cost.”

And no competitors will come. Which is how it’s always been in the CNMI. Which is (in part) why we pay so much for everything, and why the retail business in Saipan is, with the exception of Joeten, dominated by gangsters selling shoddy goods at high prices. Nobody else wants to do business here. And United might not either.


Mabel Doge Luhan is a woman of loose morals. She resides in Kagman V, where she pursues her passions of crocheting, beatboxing, and falconry.


  • 1. Yeah, I remember those air routes being abandoned due to exorbitant operational expense on fuel on short-haul routes, and frequent aircraft parts needed for replacement. At one time, Continental Air-Mike place ran into the ocean, because there was not enough land to extend the runway. On that flight was one Saipanese lady who was really shook up by that landing. There have been several abandonement of air routes from Saipan out. Continental Airline abandoned the Saipan-Japan route. Continental Air Mike abandoned its Saipan hub and moved to Guam during the “Teno Administration. PanAm moved out of Saipan after losing the Saipan-Japan route to Continenal Airline. United Airline, as well as, JAL abandoned the Saipan-Japan route due to lack of passengers to match the fuel and other operational costs. There are other airlines which are cutting short flight operations to Saipan intermittently due to expensive operational costs, and simply lack of passengers. MVA, at one time, offered to pay airlines for each empty seat from Asia to Saipan. So Mabel Luhan’s presentation in timely, and supportable. I was with the “Ada Administration,” when many of these cancellations were happening. They had to do with FAA, Administrative Law, Fuel and Parts and other operational costs, which took away profitable scheme of things. Continental sold its route to United for similar reason. So, where would the “Fare Petition” take us islanders? Luhans presentation is one reasonable mirror. It is relevant. Rudy Mangarero Sablan.

  • They call me Joe

      04/10/2024 at 3:45 AM

    Ahh, Mabel Doge my dream ragazza. Let me transport you between islands in my gondola while you listen to Zucchero sing “Va Pensiero”. Now concerning United Airlines and concerning those flight prices – may I suggest a hot air balloon? Plenty of hot air from the CNMI is available to fill a daily flight along with all the other issues they profess they can solve. I’m sure Kilili (aka; “how many years in Washington”?) will pass along his wisdom to Edwin the former Hawaii Sears & Roebuck “Tool Salesman” on how to solve the airline issue (got to keep the legacy going via. those years of useless press releases that fooled the people). Maybe size 13 shitkickers (shoes) from the MVA who was a former airline stooge can also pick up the phone and use some of that powerful MVA influence he wields to bend the will of those United Airlines Corporate executives in Chicago on “Wacker Drive” (what an appropriate address). Yes, let’s all get together and sing kumbaya and tell United, excuse me – demand that United drop it’s prices because, ya know the CNMI is the center of the universe and the airline demand to the CNMI is beyond even Si Ralph and his Australian dreams?

    Regardless, when I think of Mabel (that’s Amore), I dream of sharing a window seat next to you as we fly into the sunset of CNMI champagne wishes & caviar dreams (no need to use a discount code as I’m not a CNMI retirement system flunky). To the moon baby, just you and me.

  • Mabel, your comment just gave United a better stance. Sometimes we need to keep our opinion to ourselves. You started with, ‘well intentioned’ then follows with something United needed to hear. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you.

    • Mabel Doge Luhan

        04/11/2024 at 2:53 PM

      Public discourse isn’t a contest of who can tell the most convincing lie. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

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