Attention All Passengers

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Travel journalist and consumer advocate William J. McGee looks at the ways the airline industry is cutting costs by delegating flights to second-tier regional airlines and outsourcing critical aircraft maintenance and repairs to China, Singapore, Mexico, and El Salvador. In Attention All Passengers he argues that despite security regulations, our skies (and our airports) are not getting any safer.


William J. McGee

Comments [17]

FiDi from Manhattan

The whole discussion was a regurgitation of what everyone already knows about the airline business, but what was profoundly lacking was any suggestion of resolution. Admittedly I haven't read Mr. McGee's book, but his comments on the show were very suggestive of sinister things without any factual information to back them up. In fact the opposite is true in almost every circumstance; the US airlines are flying far more people, safely, and at lower prices than prior to de-regulation.

Secondly this deterioration of service is happening worldwide, not just in the US. Deregulation in Europe and Australia has had nearly the same impact on their local carriers. It's also beginning to show signs of appearing in Asia.

High fixed costs (planes, infrastructure), coupled with high variable costs (fuel), an uneven playing field (taxes, government subsidy), and volatile labor (unions), makes it very difficult to make consistent profits in the airline business.

As long as consumers judge an airline solely on price, we'll get what we pay for.

Jul. 19 2012 02:01 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Mr. McGee said Pres. Obama promised to do what he could about improving airline maintenance practices. Does he know if the president made any effort to do this & if he did, whether it was opposed by Republicans (as burdensome regulation of the free market, perhaps)?

Jul. 19 2012 12:42 PM
Steve Andrews from NYC

I think the comments a few minutes ago about redeeming FF miles were a little unfair. In the last 5 years I've gone to Sydney, Istanbul, London, Vancouver and Santiago on miles. If people call a month or two before they want to go I'm not surprised they don't get results. But if you understand how the system works and are prepared to plan several months in advance, it can be quite good. It takes a little work when you're looking at a several thousand dollar ticket for only several hundred dollars in taxes.

Jul. 19 2012 12:41 PM
leanne from Manhattan

I don't have much money & I love to travel, so I expect to be somewhat uncomfortable when I fly. Even so, the one time I flew on Spirit Airlines I was shocked by how bad it was. It's the only airline I refuse to fly now, I call it Evil Spirit Airlines.

Jul. 19 2012 12:36 PM
The Truth from Becky

I also found out how to get your bag checked for free...approach the gate with your carry on, board nearly last, usually the overheads are full and they will offer to check it for you...for free. (just make sure it gets on the same flight with yo ;o)

Jul. 19 2012 12:36 PM
The Truth from Becky

I don't like that they charge you to choose a seat now online, but at least you get one...a seat is not assigned when you phone least at Delta.

Jul. 19 2012 12:34 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Outsourcing in the airlines -- particularly maintenance -- is another example of a mechanism wherein the company cuts corners, cuts costs, and the money savings accrue to the high-level executives of the airlines, all to the detriment and inconvenience, and potential death or injury of the flying public.

This is true of just about every industry -- minus the safety risk in most industries. Less is more -- but only for the executives.

But they keep those happy advertising jingles going, promising us a happy life if only we fly their lines -- or buy their product.

Jul. 19 2012 12:28 PM
Amy from Manhattan

And let me guess: the cost savings the airlines got from not doing security checks themselves since the TSA took it on are *not* being passed on to the consumer?

Jul. 19 2012 12:27 PM

You are getting wildly off track if you are focusing on having to give up toothpaste and worrying about it being resold.

I fly 6-12 round trips per year. Not a true frequent flyer but I imagine I fly more than the average person. I'm not wild about my travel experience, but it seems to me that my flight experiences, now that I have adjusted my expectations to account for paying for checked luggage and/or feeding myself before I get on a flight, are just fine. My experiences with JetBlue, as opposed to Delta or AA, are just fine.

I have also flown AirAsia on several occasions and find that while I initially felt like was being nickel and dimed, the experience was quite good.

It is the airlines with the huge legacy costs of pensions and union contracts which seem to be the worst.

Jul. 19 2012 12:24 PM
JT from LI

People always comment on the great experience flying on European and Asian regional carriers. How do they make it work?

Jul. 19 2012 12:23 PM
John A

Ha Ha, Hundreds of millions spent on tracking your online buying behavior to get your sale and only a scant few mil spent tracking your bag once you sign on. Sounds right.

Jul. 19 2012 12:17 PM
Robert from NYC

LOL. Yes, I remember buying a special 100% cotton summer suit for my first flight in 1970 to Rome and Florence. I also had family come to the airport to see me off. Yes, those were the days to fly. Most importantly they had a limit as to what you could put under your seat and in overhead and it was a small bag not a 50 lb. bag over my head. It's time to bring that back. Also overhead over YOUR head was for your stuff not the guy ten rows away who gets on before you and puts his stuff in your overhead.

Jul. 19 2012 12:15 PM
Jon Pope from Ridge, NY

I could snap a CD or DVD in half with my bare hands and cut your jugular vein faster than you can say box cutter. Yet somehow my 1.5" pen knife is a threat to the entire airport.

Please ask why this false sense of security is worth slowly eroding my civil liberties in the name of national security?

Yes, I'd rather take my chances with the plane being hijacked and or blown up then being treated like a criminal and all but strip searched before I even get to my gate....

Jul. 19 2012 12:15 PM
Sonia from Manhattan

People haven't dressed up to fly on a plane since the 1970s! This has more to do with casualization of American life -- cf. guests on late night television. Guests used to dress up for that, too, but see how many (mostly men) wear jeans and T-shirts. That never happened on Johnny Carson. (and I don't think it's a bad thing, either.)

Jul. 19 2012 12:14 PM
joe from nearby

Have the airlines paid back our bail out money?

Jul. 19 2012 12:14 PM

It's a shame the radio station won't have a reasonable guest on the show to present statistics and data to show how safe flying is and how it is the safest form of transportation. Foreign repair stations are inspected by the FAA and operate to the same standards as repair shops in the U.S. It's shame Mr. McGee's "sky is falling" nonsense is going unchallenged.

Jul. 19 2012 10:30 AM
joanne olian

I find the idea of outsourcing aircraft maintenance and repairs very frightening, to say nothing of irresponsible.

Jul. 17 2012 06:33 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.