A Tale of Two Airline Heroes

You’ve heard about Steven Slater.

He’s the Jet Blue flight attendant who got fed up, bitched out a nasty passenger over the flight intercom, grabbed two beers, then escaped via the emergency slide (the YouTube is the Taiwanese animation dedicated to his meltdown).

And he’s become the latest hero to those who are fed up with their lack of dignity on the job — or the equally large number of people who are fed up with the lack of dignity when flying.

I don’t blame people for empathizing with Slater (though I do confess to having gotten into a cursefest with a flight attendant who tried to check my bag — one of the first on the plane — because her own was taking up an entire overhead bin).

But I do find it telling given last year’s airline hero: Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who saved 155 passengers by successfully landing a US Airways jet in the Hudson river (note, BorowitzReport is the first person I saw make this comparison). I made the point then that the success of the landing and evacuation likely had something to do with the fact that the all-union crew and (with the exception of the Coast Guard) first responders had had years of safety training largely won through organizing.

This year’s airline hero, by contrast, works for an airline that has avoided unions.

Mind you, I’m not crazy enough to believe that flight attendants on any of America’s crappy unionized airlines have much more dignity at work, particularly in the face of crabby passengers. And the indignity of flying is pretty much universal in this country.

But it will be interesting to see what happens with Slater (who has not yet been fired from his job).

And more generally, it is a telling statement about where we are headed as a country when last year’s dramatic plane landing has been replaced by the deployment of the emergency chute by one disgruntled employee.

Sully Goes to Washington

picture-73.thumbnail.pngAfter Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his union crew brought US Airways 1549 to a safe landing and evacuation on the Hudson River last month, I pointed out that most of the key parties involved in the rescue–the pilots, the flight attendants, the ferry crews, the first responders, and the air traffic controllers–had all benefited from years of union activism demanding better safety training.

But Sully, who testifies before the Aviation Subcommittee of the House today, says that the cuts airlines have demanded of pilots in recent years have been chasing the best pilots out of the business, which may lead to a decline in safety in the industry.

It is an incredible testament to the collective character, professionalism and dedication of my colleagues in the industry that they are still able to function at such a high level. It is my personal experience that my decision to remain in the profession I love has come at a great financial cost to me and my family. My pay has been cut 40%, my pension, like most airline pensions, has been terminated and replaced by a PBGC guarantee worth only pennies on the dollar.

While airline pilots are by no means alone in our financial struggles – and I want to acknowledge how difficult it is for everyone right now – it is important to underscore that the terms of our employment have changed dramatically from when I began my career, leading to an untenable financial situation for pilots and their families. When my company offered pilots who had been laid off the chance to return to work, 60% refused. Members, I attempt to speak accurately and plainly, so please do not think I exaggerate when I say that I do not know a single professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps.

I am worried that the airline piloting profession will not be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest. The current experience and skills of our country’s professional airline pilots come from investments made years ago when we were able to attract the ambitious, talented people who now frequently seek lucrative professional careers. That past investment was an indispensible element in our commercial aviation infrastructure, vital to safe air travel and our country’s economy and security. If we do not sufficiently value the airline piloting profession and future pilots are less experienced and less skilled, Read more