The modern airline system is much more ‘efficient’ than it used to be. And vastly safer. But it can also be more susceptible to ripple-effect shutdowns, like the one this week.
SWA received $7 billion from the US gov't during the pandemic. Those funds were used for paying staff salaries and avoiding layoffs - CNN said the funds couldn't have been used for IT upgrades. But why doesn't the gov't say: If we give/lend you money you can't do stock buybacks for say 5 years. That would encourage airlines to invest in upgrading operations, improving tech systems, buying new planes and other activities that make airlines more consumer-friendly and stimulate the economy. Stock buybacks simply enrich stock holders and top company execs; they don't improve life for an airline's workers or customers. SWA has long positioned itself as an airline of the people, but that charade has been exposed.
sharing for the New Year: this was on posters in many college dorm rooms, circa 1969
Happy New Year everyone!
Desiderata: Words for Life by Max Ehrmann, 1920
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with the Creator,
whatever you conceive the Creator to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
more good news! :
99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn't Hear About in 2022
We're a group of scientists, artists, researchers and designers who believe that science and technology are the most powerful drivers of human progress. This newsletter exists because of a simple belief. If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to start changing the stories we tell ourselves. That doesn't mean ignoring bad news - rather, it means finding as many opportunities as possible to celebrate progress for people and the planet when we find it.
Jim I’ve launched my new year by rereading portions of W. Joseph Campbell’s GETTING IT WRONG: TEN OF THE GREATEST MISREPORTED STORIES IN AMERICAN JOURNALISM. (My 2014 Amazon review is still posted).
This got me thinking about the worst (and the best) of journalist reporting. There certainly have been some dreadful examples. But also, some four baggers that have disappeared in journalist history. Though my precise recollection may be fuzzy, I remember a four bagger that you wrote perhaps 40+ years ago. It was on aircraft carriers. You described how aircraft carriers had about 85 planes, of which slightly more than a dozen served the mission (to deliver nuclear bombs) of a humongous carrier armada
I believe that you are discussed the high cost of manning and maintaining an aircraft carrier—then $6+/-billion to build, about 5-6,000 crew,, typically one carrier fleet on station, one being refitted, and, perhaps a third for training. Being at sea nonstop for up-to-six-months placed great strain on sailor families.
I recall during WW II when escort carriers were developed—-a ship would the stripped and then a flight deck would be placed on it. Not glamorous, but effective. In the late 1950s I recall that Argentina bought a used carrier from the Brits. Highly impressive addition to their fleet, though they couldn’t afford planes or the training of pilots.
In the 1990/1 Gulf War I recall that we didn’t want to bring our carriers within hundreds of miles of the conflict fearing that a Saddam missile might destroy it. Now in the South China Sea, we don’t dare to bring our carriers within range of short-range Chinese missiles. (As for long range missiles, start singing Nearer my God to thee).
I believe that another gigantic carrier is being constructed for about $14 billion, not including all of the support accoutrements.
FROM YOUR DISTINGUISHED CAREER IN JOURNALISM (including with my hero, Charlie Peters), you have written some memorable pieces that, in hindsight, seem clairvoyant, and you have witnessed both marvelous and dreadful journalism.
At 89 I would relish your personal remembrances of the good, the, bad, and the ugly, especially with your recollections of your personal pieces that should be placed in the Valhalla of Great Journalism.
P. S. When Charlie was stepping aside from The Washington Monthly, I contributed a $2,000 award in his honor. (While I acknowledge his important involvement in the Peace Corps, my view of some Peace Corpites, while I was a Foreign Service Officer in Chile 1966-1969, had a different timbre.)
“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”
– Thomas Berger
Here is another comment from a personal email message.
(As I say, I will "intend" to have an improved-and-streamlined comment section and function here.)
It is from a reader in the western half of country:
>> "With all due respect, I beg to differ. Southwest's meltdown is not just about some isolated problems at a single airline; rather, Southwest's debacle highlights flaws not only of the aviation industry but of this era. The core problem, I think, is that American society has socialized risk for important industries while allowing the benefits of our increasingly productive economy to be captured by a relatively small elite.
"The airline business is a prime example. Due to failures to enforce antitrust laws, the United States is now beholden to just four airlines (Southwest, American, United, and Delta), each of which is too big to fail. So in troubled economic times, the American taxpayer has been left to repeatedly rescue these airlines.
"I can only hope that President Biden and Secretary Pete have learned the hard political lesson from TARP's fallout. Yes, TARP was a necessary evil to save the banking system from collapse in 2008. But President Obama and the Democratic Party made a generational error by bailing out the bankers and then holding no one accountable for causing a global economic calamity. Main Street felt the pain from the recessession for years while Wall Street executives quickly returned to collecting bonuses that were essentially subsidized by the American taxpayer. It's little wonder so many Americans soured on politics and lost faith in the basic fairness of American society.
"Fast forward to 2020. After COVID hit, the American taxpayer (again) bailed out the aviation industry (including Southwest) to the tune of $37 billion. Unfortunately the result was not a social compact between the industry and the American citizens whose taxes insure and subsidize the industry. Instead these airlines enriched their executives and shareholders at the expense of their employees and customers. These airlines have also spent millions of dollars lobbying for a favorable regulatory environment that, as tens of thousands of aggrieved Southwest customers are experiencing this week, shifted financial risk from the airlines to their employees and customers.
"The reason Southwest continues to blame the weather for its own systemic failures is because Southwest doesn't want to be financially responsible for the airline's systemic failures. Southwest wants its employees and passengers to be stuck subsidizing the true costs of the airline's mismanagement. Tens of thousands of Americans had their holidays ruined by Southwest, and many thousands incurred thousands of dollars of expenses to cope with Southwest's meltdown.
"The meltdown of this single airline thus poses a stress test for the basic fairness of our society. Will our federal government take the side of citizen-consumers, or will our government again yawn at corporate malfeasance? Will President Biden and Secretary Pete hold Southwest accountable by ensuring that passengers are properly compensated, or will Southwest (and its shareholders and executives) be insulated from the true costs of this debacle?
"It will be political malpractice if President Bident and Secretary Pete fail to hold Southwest fully accountable for this fiasco.
"P.S. I'm writing from home and was not personally impacted in any way by Southwest's meltdown." <<
Why is it we Americans go from one extreme to the other? We should have left some sensible regulations in place instead of assuming the airlines would never stop putting their customers first. It was nuts that the government had to stop airlines from stranding passengers for hours on the runway but that was proof we can’t trust the airlines to put customers first.
I recently had a nightmare experience coming back from Europe with two United Airlines connecting flights. Both in Frankfort and at Dulles United had left very little time to make the connections and the distance between the gates was ridiculously far. There were a lot of people — many seniors like me — who had to run the whole way. I was surprised no one collapsed. To make matters worse we had to go through more than one United security check and they were ridiculously slow.
Then we missed our connection at Dulles because we had to go through customs as well as security then run a long way to the gate. The United Airlines person who scheduled our new flight told us that happens all the time. She was getting a lot of grief from angry people who had also missed their connections.
It makes no sense for United to not allow enough time between connecting flights. It’s a nightmare not only for passengers but also for their employees. Sensible airline regulation would put a stop to that kind of insane practice.
'Soon' (probably 'next year') I will use one of Substack's many features to set up a special comment-zone thread for evocative topics like this. I'm grateful for the excellent accounts and analyses like those below.
For the moment, I'm weighing in with a "comment" to post two interesting personal emails I have received, related to comments like the ones below.
First, one from a very experienced flyer, on the phenomenon of last minute through-the-nose fare increases:
>> "I am now sitting in the United Club at SFO waiting for the red eye to DC tonight. I have a last minute near emergency that I must attend to. The round trip from [a smaller west coast city] to DC and back is costing me $3k since I just booked it this afternoon. There is one seat left in first class. I can have it for another $2k.Never mind that I have over 4 million lifetime miles on United, that I am in the Global Services top of the United flyer hierarchy, I probably can’t get that seat unless I pay up which I am not going to do.
"I think there is something wrong with the pricing of tickets on a less time higher price basis. People have emergencies they cannot predict. I feel they should not have to pay through the nose because they must book on unexpected short notice...
"I am not sure there is any real competition between today’s airlines... I am in [the west] at this time of year and typically fly to DC through SFO or Denver. United owns both those routes. United totally owns the flight to SFO. Sometimes I pay more for that half hour hop than for the SFO -IAD flight.
"I used to like to fly. It has become increasingly a pain." <<
Interesting piece Jim and certainly highlights how the system works. For better or worse.
I am a user of the Airlines. Though a bit less now in semi-retirement. Early on in my road warrior days it became clear one had to choose their airline as the incentives to do so were compelling Far more so then than now.
The overarching note is that airlines still work to coddle the 20% that do 80% of the flying. And make no mistake, we pay the big bucks. Even if in relative terms less than before deregulation. In this arena SWA has fallen short.
If one flies regularly, one instantly understands this. The efficiency is what makes post deregulation great. The development of efficient, safe and easy to fly 'commuter' airplanes in use by regional airlines has made the hub and spoke the go to operational model.
I am also a pilot. Though I've never flown for an airline I have criss-crossed the lower 48 in small airplanes dealing with weather so I'm also quite sensitive to weather delays in ways most passengers are not.
For what it is worth, last week's SWA meltdown was hardly weather related. Weather caused delays and some cancellations, for good reasons. The majors worked through it, some passengers were unhappy but the airlines - in most cases - returned to business as usual without killing anyone..
What I see is the need for a few more hubs. Places like ORD, SFO, ATL, JFK, ERW cannot expand. And let's not dismiss the congestion caused by sharing hubs with the likes of a point to point carrier. If airports are government run then sharing the hub with P2P carriers is a matter of profit, not efficiency.
SWA must figure out a better way to run its operations. That is irrefutable. Can SWA top managers make it happen? History tells us they have no talent for this and I agree Herb would have heads rolling.
This is another Boeing like crisis with blame starting at the top. Yet corporate America still incredibly overpays their top team. Whomever said those over paid execs should dig into their own pocket to pay restitution to passengers said a mouthful. History tells us high paid executives are exempt from accountability and in the end, that is the inconvenient truth of this meltdown.
An out-sized example of the “it flew yesterday.. it’ll fly tomorrow” mindset of early small-airline mindset? Seems so..
“The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
― Wendell Berry, The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say "It is yet more difficult than you thought." This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
― Wendell Berry
Wow, great! thanks! who among us has not tried to sleep in a plastic chair sitting up in the airport?
Train travel is lovely and time-free as most of the world discovered long ago. Catch up corporate America. We need a green, non-polluting airline industry.
A collective dedicated to discovering regenerative paths forward, highlighting the people working for a better world, and connecting seekers to doers.
Doomer Optimism is a podcast dedicated to discovering regenerative paths forward, highlighting the people working for a better world, and connecting seekers to doers.
Prof. Eliot Jacobson
Retired professor of mathematics and computer science, author of 4 books
"Inspired by today's record low sea-ice:
Whether it’s sea-ice area or extent,
Humans can no longer prevent
The disappearing ice,
To be precise,
From causing an extinction event."
Not sure you folks in the doomisphere realize just how significant the present moment is with respect to global and especially Antarctic sea-ice. We are witnessing the collapse of global sea-ice in real time.
2023 will certainly bring "interesting times."
New shipping fuel regulations are greatly reducing their sulfur emissions. The loss of sulfates is already leading to localized warming.
"we need growth to generate investment to fight climate change, but that growth is itself industrial, dirty, and thoroughly risky, because we’re already at climate change’s great tipping points."
Data from above and below
Says sea-ice will hit a new low.
From Thwaites to Blue Ocean,
I’m getting the notion,
Extinction is our next plateau.
Doomers are an inquisitive lot,
Who know humans have now overshot.
Unlike those who have hope,
Doomers see that the rope
Is tied with a Gordian knot.
Herb Kelleher would have taken that collection of MBA morons out and hanged them from the lamp posts in front of the air terminal for this.
And you can bet each and every one of that collection of clucks has one - an MBA. You can chart the downfall of American business in the rise of the MBA and each mirrors the other.
Back when my dad was flying Boeing Model 80A's (look it up) from Oakland to Chicago, flying over the crest of Donner Pass on a summer day at an altitude of 30 feet, or flying Salt Lake-Cheyenne across the Continental Divide at an altitude of 150 feet AGL, there used to be a saying: "If you've time to spare, go by air."
That's even more true today than it was 88 years ago.
"If you've time to spare, go by air."
Thank you for boiling this down to the well-established construction, efficiency vs. resilience. In Machine Learning, we would call this, overfitting to short term experiential data. Ideally, the market should price in long term hazards via the stock analysts shouting that Southwest was undertaking big disruption risk. Apparently they didn't, or else no one listened. A correction is due them, and their analysts and investors. To avoid moral hazard, Southwest should pay fully for the pain and disruptions their choices have caused.
Overall experience suggests that across the economy broadly, the free market approach does not sustain long horizons or general resilience. Another example is cybersecurity. New and only hypothetically catastrophic risks are too easy to ignore until it is too late.
Jim Thanks for a thorough description of the pluses and minuses of airline travel after deregulation.
It all sounds familiar. I remember, before deregulation, how comfortable economy was [even to Japan]. Even economy to CA, on economy I was served duck a la orange.
There was limited air travel because the cost was substantial. After deregulation, the fares initially were cheaper and there was a proliferation of airlines. People Air, for example, was about $40 NYC to Boston. Eastern had an hourly shuttle from NYC-Boston and would add an extra flight, if the first was full.
Over time a number of the small airlines folded or were absorbed by larger airlines. Gradually, in an emerging oligopoly. There were fewer flights and, gradually, the economy seats got smaller and smaller, and first class/business seats, with greater comfort, became extremely expensive.
More recently airlines have added a bevy of extra charges to economy—more leg room $$$, baggage restrictions. I really enjoyed pre-regulation air travel. Today many, many more people travel by plane. A big change was that airlines treated economy travelers far better pre-deregulation. Today I feel that we often are treated as widgets rather than human beings.
On balance, currently my family can travel by air more cheaply, but with considerable inconvenience and $$$ add ons. There used to be more price competition after de-regulation. Now with an oligopoly, I feel that we, on economy, are victimized by the airlines.
Can you cite a reference that "Airplane!" was inspired by "Airport?" The wiki page has 2 references that indicate the inspiration was the 1957 movie "Zero Hour."