Saturday, February 17, 2007

Seniors in the Cockpit - Arrogance on the Ground

Look, there are already a bunch of good reasons not to fly commercial airlines unless forced to do so. There is no other industry I can think of that happily takes about ten big ones a year from me every year and then treats me like I am chicken manure on the bottom of a pair of barn boots. I mean, really. Add the inconveniences of the TSA, new passport requirements, barking orders from airport speakers and surly crowds (and why wouldn't they be?); the whole experience has become unpleasant and stressful. Institutional arrogance, I've heard it called. The airlines know we need to fly, so they make no effort to extend themselves at all. Evidence the recent Jet Blue fiasco that stranded passengers for 11 hours on the tarmack, in sight of the terminal. And, of course, that's not the only case of this kind of outrageous customer abuse - its just the latest. I could go on-and-on about this indignity, but then we all have our own horror stories in that regard - and therein lies the rub. We're all getting screwed, blued and tattoed by our "partners in travel." Go figure. Time for a Passengers' Bill of Rights.

Now, the FAA wants to extend the compulsory retirement age of commercial pilots from 60 to 65 years of age. This, after their own spokesperson said as recently as last May that there was no scientific support for doing so. So it is not inconceivable that two, long-time members of AARP could soon be flying your booked flight to wherever - while 14,000 younger pilots languish on furlough from the airlines. Age discrimination is ethically bankrupt. And inflexibility is a bad thing. Don't want to summarily exclude experienced professionals from the cockpit, that wouldn't be right. Unless there was a good reason to do so. And there is. According to background on the wire, no studies have been done to determine whether adding those five years, as in international aviation, has an effect on safety. That's not good enough for me, and it shouldn't be good enough for you either. After all, air traffic controllers are required to retire well before 60, let alone 65. Many age-sensitive jobs that involve public safety have such rules.

The problem of competence and quick, reflexive action in the cockpit is not limited to age. I'm sure that a lot of travelers have noticed lately that their "connector flights," that is those flights to and from their final, non-hub destination, are being provided by Sky West planes that bear the colors and brands of their larger airline partners. In fact, St. George Utah-based Sky West now has the largest fleet of commercial planes in the aviation industry. They operate the "commuter" lines for most of the majors. And they pay their young pilots about the same wage as a first year teacher, or less. Yup, your life in the hands of the very modestly compensated. I think that speaks to competence, and the value airlines place on passenger lives. Like you'd want a discount surgeon to do that bit of work you need. Uh huh. Not buying it. The anti-globalization forces warned us that we'd have to adopt third-world standards to compete in the international economy. U.S. airlines are already there. Big time.

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