Miserable air travel

Employees and customers are victims of the focus on a company’s short-term stock price

When someone gets back from a trip and you ask, “How’d it go?” whether it was business or pleasure, the answers seem uncommonly alike. They are often about the transportation rather than the destination and what happened there.

We’ve been seeing unprecedented numbers of flight cancellations making many avoid travel at all costs. Zoom and other technologies have reduced business travel to a great degree. Although visiting friends and families are still powerful urges, many are looking for vacation options closer to home. Why go through the airline misery if you don’t have to?

Why would the airlines schedule so many flights and fill them with passengers, if they’re only going to cancel them? Possibly for the same reason they’ve turned air travel into a cattle car experience.

When the pandemic hit, our government shut many businesses down and gave them billions to keep them afloat. The airlines were no exception, and there was a stipulation not to lay off employees. They offered early retirements instead, so they could make even more money.

As the restrictions were lifted, air travel, like many other industries, bounced back due to pent-up demand. They weren’t ready for it. They had plenty of airplanes, but not enough crews to fly them. Baggage handlers are easily trained. Flight attendants require more training. Mechanics require much more. Pilots require lots and lots of training and something called experience.

Before you trust pilots with an expensive airplane full of people, they need to accumulate 1,500 hours of flying time to ensure they’ve experienced all possible weathers and adverse conditions successfully. There’s no excuse. Airline CEOs and managers should have known that pilots, especially senior pilots, don’t grow on trees. Today, there’s an incredible shortage and lowering the minimum qualifications could lead to multiple disasters.

So they book flights optimistically, but if anyone calls in sick or becomes unavailable, it means cancellations. Some days have hundreds of cancellations. Can there be that many people calling in sick or becoming unavailable in a day?

You see, by law, airline personnel can fly only 10 hours a day with at least 10 hours off before flying again. Those delays often make the flight crews unavailable for the next day’s flights, and these are often last-minute realities. When a late flight finally gets in at 1 a.m., that crew isn’t going to be ready to go at 5 a.m., even though the plane might be ready.

Again, airline CEOs and executives know this. What could make them so stupid? You could fire those CEOs, but I can tell you the next ones won’t be much better.

Any CEO who wants to survive knows that maximizing shareholder revenue is salvation. Neither employee nor customer satisfaction seems to matter as much. In many cases, a CEO’s pay and the ability to keep their jobs is predicated on the price of the stock.

You see, those CEOs we’d love to crucify are just trying to keep themselves out of trouble. Please, don’t get me wrong, making money is the lifeblood of any business, just like we need blood to survive. But is making blood the purpose of your life? Hopefully, we’re looking for something more.

If the short-term stock price is all-important, customers and employees suffer from efforts to keep that price up there no matter what. Maximizing revenue and cutting costs are the name of the game, so schedule as many flights as possible. If you have to cancel some, that’s just too bad.

After a few bad trips, many passengers just decide it’s not worth it, and the airline is in trouble in the not-too-distant future.

No doubt, we have to take another look at how we measure and reward CEOs to stop tempting such behavior. But we also need a culture change. We need CEOs who do the right things for the right reasons taking care of all their stakeholders, because stakeholders expect and demand such behavior. This won’t be easy.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Salem, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque3@gmail.com.

Categories: Business Advice