CEO of the Cockpit #21:
Let's Fix This Airline

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Once again, AVweb's fictional CEO of the Cockpit holds court in a high-flying bull session with fellow pilots and comes up with can't-fail fixes for his fictional airline's finances.

CEO of the Cockpit

Three guys are in the cockpit for today's flight from Los Angeles to the beautiful splendor of Newark, N.J. Normally, having a jump seat rider in the cockpit for such a long flight is a huge pain in the butt. Today, it's not so bad because the seat is filled with the butt of Jeff, a classmate from those wild and woolly days in the late 1970s when the airline screwed up and hired us both.

Today's cast for our five-hour sojourn eastward is completed by Fred, a senior co-pilot who could be a very junior 737 captain, but decided to remain senior in the right seat of the 767 and have a life instead.

Climbing out of three-three-oh for our cruising altitude of three-seven-oh it was Jeff who started what was bound to be a long conversation that would lead to the time passing much quicker, but would also mean that my Jepps would be out of date until another trip with a long leg when I'd have the time to put in the changes.

"So," Jeff began, "The airlines are still losing their asses and it is up to us, the line pilots, to ride in and save the day. Am I getting this right?"

"That's about it," chimed in Fred, who until right this very minute looked like he was in a coma. Fred has a low-energy way of flying. Hunched over in the right seat, he spends most of every leg with his head resting against the glare shield. Occasionally, you will hear a "ugh" out of him, but that is usually about all.

You must be pumped up today, Freddo. Both of you guys know from the past few weeks that we have to save the company money so they can fund that guaranteed pension fund the big boys voted themselves. I'd hate to see any of our vice presidents go without. I just couldn't bear it if they suffered.

"Very funny, dork," continued Jeff. "Dork" is a pet name Jeff gave me back during our initial engineer training in the 727 when we were simulator partners, as in: "Protect essential, Dork!"

Non-Leaders

"I think we've already beaten to death the fact that our leaders are anything but," he continued. "We could spend all of our time en route to New Jersey bitching about that but it is a done deal. The cookies have been eaten and our fearless leaders have eaten them. The fact remains that we airline pilots are more married to our jobs than the management guys. It might behoove us to stop moaning and start with the suggestions."

We were picking up a little mountain wave at this point and I asked Fred to get us a lower altitude. I have all sorts of faith in the 767, but still get nervous when we are really heavy and are up to our max altitude for that weight. Mo-better we have a little "cushion" of altitude if it gets really gnarly. So far, it wasn't all that rough, but the airspeed was varying about 20 knots, plus or minus the bug.

A ding on the intercom from the rear reminded me that it would be a good idea to have the seatbelt sign on if we were going to rock and roll like this, so I turned that switch to the "Oscar November" position and continued the conversation.

I was a little upset after 9/11 when management ignored the "no furlough" clause of our contract and laid off a bunch of our guys anyway. It is getting harder and harder to believe the "force majure" clause is still a workable excuse. The war in Iraq is over, 9/11 is literally years in the past and any long-term heartburn the airlines are undergoing is because they still adamantly price their product below what it costs to produce it.

"You don't think the pilots need to give anything back?" said Fred.

I think we probably will end up giving something back, but not because we pilots as a group are the sole reason for the airline's downfall. Obviously, it is in our best interest to keep the airline alive but I think the airline management types didn't go far enough when they started reneging on their contracts.

They started off by attacking the scarecrow that everybody likes to attack ... those "ole debbil' pilots." We are so greedy that we actually demand to make money. How dare we do that when we all know that all we do is sit around and push buttons?

My argument there could go on for days and days describing what we do and what we go through to do what we do, but it would be pointless. Not only is it true that the public doesn't care, it is also true that they probably shouldn't. Hell, if I was working a ground job, I'd be mad at us all the time too.

Maybe they don't know what we really do to get where we are but it is also true that no matter where you are in life it is natural to be mad at others that seem to make more than you for doing less.

What Contracts Can We Tear Up?

Personally, I think that the pilot contract should have been the first, not the only, thing they figuratively tore up. For example, I understand that we still provide an office, a secretary and about five hundred grand a year to our ex-airline's CEO from few years ago. Remember him? At the time it seemed to be worth whatever it cost to get rid of him. Now, though, shouldn't they have refused to pay him a half million dollars a year for simply going away?

They complain about fuel costs, but when have they gone to the oil companies and said they'd only pay so much? They do that to us all the time. It seems to me it would be just as easy for them to defend against a lawsuit from their fuel providers as it is to defend themselves from our lawyers when they go outside our agreement.

How about insurance costs? Terminal and gate rent? Landing fees? Have any of these been renegotiated or simply not paid saying that "due to 9/11 we can't pay that much anymore"?

We are still building terminal buildings. How about we put that off until we make some money?

"Oh god," said Jeff. "Now he's on a roll and we'll never stop him."

The ride had smoothed out as we leveled at three-three-oh so I turned off the seatbelt sign and began my lecture on how we could save the company without giving up our future.

Cull From The Top Down

OK guys ... let's get this puppy warmed up, I began. First, we need to start from the top, and by that, I mean the very top. We have a president, a chairman of the board and literally, at last count, at least 25 vice presidents.

Right away, we make the chairman of the board a non-paying position. He should make enough by manipulating our stock and by going to free parties, cruises, charity events, and parades. He doesn't need the money. Only pay him if we make a profit and then give him a whole lot of jack as a reward. Why are we paying him to lose billions of dollars? Anybody can do that.

Next, we get rid of almost all the vice presidents. All we really need is one VP to be there if our president croaks. If it is good enough for the good ole U.S. of A, it ought to be good enough for us.

With each vice president you say sayonara to, you also get rid of their large staffs, offices, company cars, stock options, and executive pooper privileges. That will save us millions of dinero.

Next, we do a review of every single soul working in the general offices. If they can't describe what they do to either (1) add to our bottom line or (2) help others to make money, they will follow the parade of ex-vice presidents out of the parking lot. By the way, parking is something people pay for in the big cities. Until today it has been free to our employees. From now on they pay and they pay more the closer they are to the building.

The remaining office employees can show solidarity with us pilots by getting the same paid holidays off as us. This means they get none. If I gotta fly on Christmas, why do they get to be home with their ankle-biters on that morning?

We make them wear uniforms, not to save any money but just because I say so. If I have to wear this stuff, they should too. By the way, they have to pay for their own uniforms; we'll set up a payroll deduction plan.

In the bill-paying department, we do what I do at home. Send back the bills every other month without the check. Then when they write back tell them you sent them the check ... "Where the hell it?"

Next, when they send you another bill, send them a check, but "forget" to sign it. Any management that can ignore a pilot contract and then take millions in bonuses for losing billions can certainly make the simple mistake of not signing a check or two.

Operationally, if we have a flight that clearly isn't going to make money that day we either cancel it or tell our passengers that we'll fly it if they can pony up enough cash to make it worth our while.

Finally, we send no payroll taxes to the government until they sue us enough to make us. The float on sums of money that large could pay a lot of our other bills, when we get around to paying them.

One more idea ... this sounds a little wacky, but what if we told the government that we were developing nuclear weapons? They pay places like Korea billions to make them stop. Why shouldn't they pay us for a change?

Increase Income

"OK," interjected Jeff, "obviously, you've dropped off of whatever mental ledge you were dancing on and the voices in your head have taken over. I have just a few suggestions on how we could improve the income side of our airline's ledger without appearing insane, as you clearly now do."

"First," Jeff said, "we paint our airplanes but without any signage. We should immediately rent out our paint jobs to any company willing to pay for the advertising space. I can see it now ... Coke logos on 737s, Trojans on the noses of our 767s, accident injury attorney's pictures on the sides of our tugs."

"Next, we make all the overhead luggage bins into pay lockers. Nobody gets to use them until they insert 50 cents and then they have to pay an additional 50 cents to get their swag out of the bins when we arrive."

"Pay toilets on our international fights ... 'nuff said there." Jeff then continued this stream of consciousness with:

  • Vending machines to sell the passengers drinks during the flight. Why we have been giving that stuff away for free boggles the mind.

  • Take the galleys out of the airplanes. We don't feed anybody anymore and can use the space for more seats.

  • Give them internet access, but charge them money to use it.

Unfortunately, our flight was by now almost over, and with only 45 minutes in a holding pattern we found ourselves on final into EWR.

I don't think anybody will use any of our suggestions, but in a system that thinks it is OK to "give back to the company" to buy their own jobs, like the United guys did, I think it may be time to think of some radical fixes to the problem we are facing.

Obviously, I said as we careened down the final to the airport, we shouldn't have pay toilets in the airplanes but I think passing a tip jar before the approach might be appropriate ...