Another irritating day spent commuting. A day wasted; 10 or 12 or 14 hours (or more) spent just getting into position to do my job. I can't complain too loudly about the pitfalls of having to negotiate free rides on airplanes to and from my domicile, when most people would kill for free plane rides. This commuting business is how airline life works; a majority of airline pilots commute, and this is how it's done. As a non-paying passenger, I fly as the lowest possible priority, my trip paid for only by the professional courtesy of another airline and its crews, who likely rely on the same courtesy by others (like my humble self). It's also my choice not to live in my domicile, from whence a fair proportion of my workdays embark. That--living in domicile--would solve probably 30-40% of these days.
But what I CAN bitch about--again (and yet again)--is the ridiculous mayhem into which the passenger airline business has descended in the past half decade, a history for which everyone seems immune from being held concretely responsible, a history which seems to have a life of its own, an economic and business tsunami wreaking its havoc while we all watch helplessly.
Well I don't buy it. It pisses me off, and I'm amazed we're not all, at the end of our trips, ready to axe murder every non-TSA person we encounter (and the TSA too except that they can make your non-flying life as miserable as your flying experience was). Like a man who, faced with the temptation of an alluring one-night stand, chooses a fork in the road from which redemption is nigh unto impossible, the airline industry has been severely tested these past few years and has chosen the wrong fork.
My standard caveat: I have no training in business, and I've no management of others in my work history beyond the management of my flight crew as an airline captain. So I'm aware that there are more things in heaven and earth than I see from the cockpit and airport waiting lounges. Still, while I'm not absolutely convinced the business world is entirely a house of cards, an ugly white-guy circle jerk that drags the rest of us in a tiny, swamped lifeboat in the wake of glorious management compensation, I'm very nearly there.
From the standpoint of the lowly traveler, what we are seeing is a proliferation of 50-seat regional jets where there used to be larger airplanes at (possibly) slightly lower frequency. This has several effects, positive and negative: it serves to reduce the total number of available passenger seats, thus helping to solve what is said to be an overcapacity problem; it can claim to result in an increase of service since the replacement of a single 135-seat airplane with two trips on a 50-seater involves a claimed doubling of the flight frequency; it results in a greater and greater proportion of travelers moving about the country on smaller and less accommodating aircraft; and, most crucially, it replaces legacy airline jobs with people at considerably lower salaries, people who are either hoping to use these jobs to move up to better, legacy airline jobs, or people without aspirations to make a career out of the field.
My own history is in the regional airlines, and I have great respect for the skills and professionalism of the men and women who ply this trade. My complaint is not that the workers are less skilled or that the general public's safety is somehow greatly compromised, though an argument can be made that the greater number of aircraft required to haul the same number of people will have the effect of increasing the chances for mishaps. No, my complaint is that the problem with the industry was not properly identified, and the current strategy thus does not get to a solution to that problem. And meantime, the workers are being forced to bear the brunt of this mismanagement, first of the industry into a crisis state, and now of the misdirected recovery. Airline after airline has forced its employee groups to give back very substantial portions of their salary and benefit packages under the duress of the airline's very tottering existence. (I must angrily note that no similar reduction in management standards of living have been effected--on the contrary, we keep hearing about secret plans to reward large bonuses and stock options to management even as the grunts are made to bleed.) And yet we find ourselves in pretty much the same perilous situation as we were in four years ago; the deep cuts have not saved anything; perhaps they will, but it will involve a remaking of the industry into something else.
And that's my beef: this has all become very much like Greyhound. Services and comforts have been sacrificed to enable everyone to travel for $99. And still the airlines bleed red ink, strikes loom, further cuts are threatened.
I will also say this: I have struggled for a long time with the business of trying to suss out justice in compensation, and I must admit I've not found any bedrock in my search so far. What determines a person's compensation? Is it market forces? Is it the value of the thing or service produced? Is it the difficulty of the job in question (say, the training or experience required to do the job)? Who is the high water mark, and will we all agree? Does Celine Dion warrant a $500 million contract? Or A-Rod? Does a surgeon warrant a $400,000 yearly salary? If so, why? What about an attorney? Does it matter if an attorney is able to win multi-million dollar settlements?
The position of airline pilot is changing. The job isn't changing, but evidently the esteem in which the public holds the profession is bending under the same weight that keeps us shopping at Wal-Mart even when we know it's a poison that kills our communities. My perspective from inside the profession (like anyone's from their own desk, I'm sure) is changing over time: this is a job that took me 15 years of my life and a huge financial sacrifice to attain, and where I am given regular charge of 150 tons of machinery that flies at 500 mph. The consequences, at least from some mishaps, can be catastrophic. And I'm witnessing that profession being dragged thru the muck. I have my reservations about a lot of things, but especially from a starting point in 2001 that is considerably less in adjusted dollars from what we were earning in the '70s, I abhor the attempted salvation of a badly managed industry out of the hide of my profession (among others).
In the words of the immortal Esbee: Harumph.