Saturday, March 3, 2007

Issues With the Skies and Their Finances

Interestingly, for the first time in several years the top economic issues for the airline industry aren't centered around bankruptcy. Two issues have unfolded in the past couple of weeks in regard to airlines and airport security.

The first came after a cunning idea to dryly slip a measure into the 9/11 commission report to force the Transportation Security Administration to collectively bargain with government worker's labor unions before modifying personnel policies. Of course, this is slightly dumbfounding if you notice that the 9/11 commission didn't give a rip about collective bargaining for the TSA. As a matter of fact, when the TSA was created the measure was considered, but the consensus was such a measure would impair threat reaction and flexibility.

One clear clarification needs to be made- the bill has nothing to do with allowing a TSA screener to join a union, they're more than happy to work with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) until they're happy. It's not a matter of extending that privilege to screeners. It's a matter of whether or not the TSA should be forced to collectively bargain with government unions prior to making a policy change.

On the other side of the airline news, JetBlue's financially devastating meltdown resulting in a ten hour runway wait for some passengers gave a few ever politically-eager legislators an opportunity. Sen. Boxer (D-CA) has promised to introduce legislation to provide "adequate food, water, and restroom facilities" to passengers stranded on planes. Admirable as it may be, JetBlue pretty much got the picture. While the airlines are rolling out their own ideas, some senior officials at the Air Transport Association are worried that Washington Intervening would only make things worse. I'm inclined to agree. JetBlue has already announced it plans to provide thirty million dollars in refunds and vouchers, and the economic damage JetBlue sustained was massive. They could model some structure after Southwest, which has it's own officials solely for the purpose of dealing with crisis situations.

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