The Brancatelli File
HERE THEY COME AGAIN
BY JOE BRANCATELLI
March 6, 2003 -- You don't come to my little corner of Cyberspace for political discourse, so let's jump right past the discussion of whether it makes sense to invade Iraq and head for the reality: What happens to the Big Six airlines when we do take up arms?
Well, no secret there. The Big Six will whine and demand another bailout.
Since the concept of shared sacrifice--not to mention shame--is beyond the tiny, incompetent men who run the nation's major carriers, they will stamp their feet, pout, threaten and run to Congress demanding taxpayer-funded relief at the very moment American troops will be fighting and dying half a world a way.
And, please, don't tell me that is a harsh assessment. Need I remind you that Continental blowhard-in-chief Gordon Bethune publicly began the drumbeat for the 2001 bailout just 96 hours after 9/11. A day later, Delta chief executive Leo Mullin wailed on national television that the "airline industry cannot be the first casualty of this war." All this while thousands of genuine first casualties were still buried in the rubble at Ground Zero and at the Pentagon.
No, fellow travelers, these shameless men will be coming at us again with their bottomless bag of lies, phony statistics, half-truths, paid lobbyists and on-the-pad politicians. They will again be demanding our tax dollars to prop up their mismanaged little businesses. All this while they pay themselves millions in salary, live in $18,000-a-month condos on the company expense account and do virtually nothing to heal themselves and their broken companies.
Last time, they slunk away with a $5 billion grant after getting a Congressional vote in the middle of the night, all while we were burying our dead and searching for our emotional bearings. But this time we can see the slimy corporate welfare junkies coming from a mile away. We need to be ready for the lies and the spin.
This is just some of what you're going to hear in coming days as Big Six bosses come to us hat in hand for another bailout. Be prepared--and let your Congressperson know in advance that you don't want more of your tax dollars going to the Big Six.
THEY'LL SAY: THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY IS IN CRISIS
Hogwash. The airline "industry" is not in crisis, the Big Six are. The well-managed, well-focused carriers--Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran--are profitable. Their traffic, route networks and revenue are growing, not falling. America West, which has cleaned up its corporate act and simplified its fares, is edging toward profitability despite last year's withering attack of the Big Six. Frontier, which has simplified its fares, is holding its own at its Denver hub despite kamikaze-like attacks by United Airlines.
THEY'LL SAY: AMERICA NEEDS THE BIG SIX
Baloney. This nation survived the demise of its own "chosen instrument," Pan Am. It lost Braniff and survived, lost Eastern and survived, lost TWA and survived. Even the dim-witted security analysts--who never saw this coming--now realize that the demise of a United Airlines or a US Airways would actually go a long, long way to return the remainder of the Big Six to a modicum of health. America doesn't need all these airlines that pursue unsupportable fare structures, repellant consumer-service policies and irrational hub-and-spoke operations. The faster these incompetently and imperiously run carriers disappear, the faster new and better-run airlines will take their place.
THEY'LL SAY: SMALL-TOWN AMERICA NEEDS THE BIG SIX
We could argue that dubious bit of spin forever, but let's stick to the facts: The Big Six have no moral or financial obligation to continue serving smaller communities. In fact, smaller cities are being cut from Big Six route maps with blinding speed. Since 9/11, government statistics show, small communities have lost Big Six flights twice as fast as other cities.
THEY'LL SAY: SECURITY COSTS ARE CRIPPLING THE BIG SIX
An egregious lie. Shortly after 9/11, the Big Six claimed they were spending $1 billion a year on security. At last count, since the federal government assumed most passenger-security functions, the Big Six has contributed only about $300 million of the $700 million they were supposed to pay.
THEY'LL SAY: THE BIG SIX ARE OVERTAXED
An incredible fabrication that exploded in the Big Six's face in front of a normally credulous Congressional committee last fall. I deconstructed the tax lies in a previous column, so I won't waste your time again here. But I do urge you to read how airline executives weasel and spin and lie even in front of a Congressional committee.
THEY'LL SAY: FUEL COSTS ARE KILLING THE BIG SIX
The airlines are right about this one. Even with aggressive price hedging, the Big Six are doling out millions more every day on fuel costs. But guess what? So are you. So am I. So's Wal-Mart and your local supermarket. Gasoline is now selling for about $2.25 a gallon in California. I don't see Congresspeople rushing to the freeways and handing out tax grants to passing motorists. I paid $1.86 a gallon for home heating oil this week, which is about 80 percent more than I paid in October. Trust me when I tell you that my local Congresswoman was not waiting on my porch with a tax refund to cover my higher heating bills. Why do the Big Six think they deserve special treatment when it comes to the day-to-day cost of doing business?
THEY'LL SAY: THEY'VE DONE ALL THEY CAN TO HELP THEMSELVES
This is the biggest lie of all. Oh, sure, the Big Six have shed hundreds of thousands of workers in the 18 months since 9/11. They have slashed capacity by up to 15 percent, too. But they have not fundamentally changed the way they do business. They continue to flood their hubs with unneeded and costly flights. They continue to harass low-fare competitors rather than tend to their own businesses. They continue to squander millions on boondoggles like stadium naming rights. They continue to feather the nests of the bosses with multimillion-dollar employment contracts, lump-sum retirement payouts and appalling expenditures on perks. Worst of all, of course, they continue to destroy their businesses by using a Byzantine fare structure and repulsive customer-service practices that depress both legitimate business-travel demand and discretionary leisure travel.
I won't shed a tear if and when any of the Big Six disappear. Neither should you. More to the point, we shouldn't waste another dime of our national treasury propping them up.
This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com
Copyright © 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.