Unionization, Or Why American Carriers Stink

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,,, at 10/16/2012 01:04:00 PM

[NOTE: This post won't win me any points with the Barack Obama / Dean Baker / union apologist crowd, but this blog couldn't care less about parochial US concerns. This is the international political economy zone, buddy.] Everyone knows that American carriers are among the worst in the world, and are certainly the worst in the developed world. Given that Americans came up with the concept of services marketing, it is galling that the most visible services those of us in the rest of the world experience firsthand when voyaging there are their el crappo airlines. The planes are ancient. The food is bad (if there's any at all). And, worst of all for an industry that used to capitalize on the glamor of flight--sorry for being politically incorrect once again--the flight attendants are geezerized, surly and big enough to be beat you into a pulp. Before you accuse me of all sorts of things, here is WSJ travel correspondent Jennifer Chen illustrating that this is not mere male bias at work with her characteristic in-flight horror story:
Less than an hour into the [domestic] flight, I was regretting my choice. Flying coach, I expected uncomfortable seats, lackluster food and surly service, but what I hadn’t counted on was being turned away from the toilet. As I reached out to open the door, a flight attendant preparing a drinks cart two feet away barked, “You can’t go in there. I’m busy. Go to the one in the front.” When the other toilets turned out to be occupied, I turned back to discover the occupied sign was on. “I’m not letting you in,” the flight attendant insisted.
The reason for American airborne mediocrity, of course, has much to do with unionization:
Why are Asian airlines generally so much better? And why have the standards on U.S. airlines fallen so low? The differences lie in history. Since airline deregulation in the late 1970’s, America’s big three have struggled with “legacy issues”—an industry term for older workforces, higher salaries, pensions and union contracts that all add up to higher costs.
Not only are Asian airlines relatively unhampered by these issues, but they’re also blessed by the fact that their region is seeing phenomenal growth in passenger traffic. Asian airlines in recent years have accounted for half of total industry profits. And those earnings are wisely reinvested into newer planes, cutting-edge seats and innovative entertainment systems. Even Chinese airlines are noticeably improving, leading a regional buying spree of planes. “[Asian airlines] are constantly thinking six or seven years ahead, and they have the money to invest,” Brendan Sobie, an analyst with the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, told me.
Industry awards tell the tale as US carriers are nowhere to be found while Asian carriers are among six out of ten of the world's best airlines. US carriers routinely fly in and out of bankruptcy, with American Airlines doing so most recently. And yet even more of their workers are planning to--get this--unionize? Board AA on the flight to unionized financial hell. Last I heard, US Airways was also headed there.

To be perfectly honest, Asian flight crews are often chosen and trained to be easy on the eyes and courteous to boot. Being a member of flight crew should be a young person's trade. In this day and age of sky-high fares, those are small but significant rewards for flying on Asian carriers. To be gender-neutral, I obviously have no objection to hunky male attendants for female passengers, either. At any rate, you won't find them on American carriers since they are about as superannuated as the female flight crew--fat, balding, and the rest of it.

So American carriers are uncompetitive, habitual money losers awash with decrepit capital goods and geezerized Anglo fatties with attitude problems. In short, the US airline industry is a microcosm of America itself; they expect you to fork over good money for the privilege of being abused. If you want a poster child for the problems of organized labour Stateside, you don't have to look far. The rest of us see the folly of America and prefer to do without.

And no, you cannot have another bag of peanuts.

DISCLAIMER: My old boss used to be chairman of Malaysia Airlines (2012 winner for "Best Cabin Staff")