On selfishness, bankruptcies and airlines

Here we go again Hobbes, a new example of double standards and lose-lose situation. This time around is the greed of a few –namely pilots- that is putting the livelihood of the many at risk. A dispute over seniority was holding back a possible merger between Northwest and Delta Air Lines.

With oil prices at more than $100 a barrel, reducing non-aircraft capital expenditures, number of seats they fly and their operating costs through synergies generated after merging, seemed -and still seems- the sensible thing to do.

But the potential merger collapsed last week because the pilots at both airlines could not agree on seniority lists. For pilots –you know, the guys who sit by at the plane while the computers fly it-, seniority determines almost everything, from their pay and work schedules to who gets fired during tough times. Understandably, they are very unwilling to do anything to jeopardize it.

I know I am no more than an amateur Microsoft Flight Simulator player (pilot?) with very few real flying hours of my own, but hey! It is not that difficult. Seriously.

Talks collapsed. Merger collapsed. The outcome? Well, last Tuesday (18/3/2008)Northwest said that it will probably reduce U.S. passenger capacity again when it unveils a its new flight schedule –namely lay-offs-.

As for Delta, it said that it will offer voluntary severance buyouts to roughly 30,000 employees –more than 50% of its workforce!- and cut U.S. capacity by an extra 5%.

Thousands of jobs will be lost just because a few ‘protected’ workers of the airlines could not agree on their own highflying conditions, salaries and lifestyle. Selfishness to the max. Not only they will again force their employers through tough times, but thousands of check desk attendant, luggage handlers and the like will get made redundant because of the demands of spoiled kids.

One of my flying instructors once told me that a pilot in a commercial plane is like a music engineer in a rock concert, after a few critical decisions are made, the autopilot is on and they sit by ‘just in case’. Obviously they check things out and the like, flying through 5 time zones is not a static activity, but let’s be realistic it can be done remotely –if only human nature allowed for passenger confidence- and it is not that difficult to fly a plane. Apparently most of the subjects taught when studying to become a commercial pilot are legal matters.

Tim Harford nicely puts it in his popular The Undercover Economist:

[…] professionals, like doctors, actuaries, accountants and lawyers manage to maintain high wages through other means than unionisation. [These means] will include very long qualification periods and professional bodies that give their approval only to certain number of candidates per year. Many of the organizations that are put forth to protect us from ‘unqualified’ professionals in fact serve to maintain the high rates of the ‘qualified’ […] (page 27)

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s. Respect must be won, and it is time that some people lose it. Government officials defending the future of these employees are nowhere to be seen. Who cares about the people left out to ‘market forces’ for a few selfish women and man?

Remember, we are alone.

.Calvin

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