'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
PULLING FOR THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY
I read an article in the newspaper the other day about yet another major airline in dire financial trouble. American Airlines laid off 3,100 flight attendants in a last ditch effort to avoid bankruptcy. (Oh boy, good luck trying to get an extra bag of peanuts now.) The story explained that American’s parent company, AMR, lost over $6 billion since the start of 2001. That’s some serious money, even by government standards.
It is widely accepted that the airline industry is a vital component of our nation’s economic infrastructure. (Oooh, I love saying phrases like “economic infrastructure.” It almost sounds like I know what I’m talking about.) I have friends who would be out of work if the airline industry stopped operating. These friends, by the way, are not flight attendants—who are already out of work—they are businessmen who must fly around the country each week to meet with customers.
The airline industry is so important to the nation’s economic health, the federal government is discussing ways of bailing out the industry with taxpayer money. I personally hope the airlines can become profitable once again on their own. I feel strongly about this, not so much because I’m a cheapskate (which I am) who hates paying taxes (which I do), but because if the government ever becomes the airlines’ Sugar Daddy, the industry will quickly evolve into Amtrak in the sky.
(When it comes to paying taxes, don’t forgot that I live in Connecticut, so I’m already used to having a major portion of my income go to vital government services, for example, making sure the school system has an equal number of $100,000-a-year administrators as it has students.)
If you think the airlines are mismanaged now, just wait till our only choice is Airtrak, run by career government bureaucrats who think “customer service” means accepting brown paper bags filled with hundred-dollar bills from lobbyists.
It’s not that I think the airlines have been particularly well run up to this point. Yes, I know September 11th was devastating, but most airlines were already hemorrhaging red ink long before that terrible day. And it seems if you are offering a service which is a vital component of our nation’s economic infrastructure (oooh, that phrase sounds so good), you should be able to find a way to turn a profit. After all, many products and services in our economy, which by no stretch of the imagination will ever be labeled “vital,” routinely make tons of money. If Ray Romano can earn $40 million a year for being the least interesting character on his TV show, then it seems the airlines should be able to make a buck or two.
But the main reason I’m pulling for the airlines is simply because I think what they do for a living is so cool. For a couple hundred bucks I can drive up north of Hartford, park my car, walk aboard a metal tube, and a couple of bags of WWII surplus peanuts later, I’m in Chicago, or Atlanta, or Miami. The whole concept of safely traveling thousands of miles in a few hours still strikes me as, well, remarkable.
If the government starts running the airline business, the “safely traveling” part of the equation might not be so commonplace anymore. (If Amtrak has trouble keeping their trains from crashing, even though they’re never supposed to leave the ground, imagine what they’ll do with vehicles traveling 35,000 feet in the air.) Also, with the government in charge, Chicago-bound passengers may hear the P.A. system announce upon arrival, “Welcome to Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport.” (Which would be a gross mistake, of course, because they are actually sitting at the terminal at Miami International Airport.)
Anyway, I do hope the airline industry survives and thrives. It’s an industry which gives us an unprecedented level of mobility. It’s an industry which allows companies to conduct business around the globe. And most of all, it’s an industry which gives me the opportunity to say “economic infrastructure.”
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