i screwed up. now give me money.
do the airlines think this attack made us stupid?
by matt morin
To put it nicely, tragedy has always brought out the opportunist. To put it truthfully, when the day turns dark, the cockroaches emerge. Mere hours after last week’s terrorist acts, postcard of the New York skyline were selling as "limited edition collector’s items" for as much as $45. The day after the attack, gasoline prices in the New York area jumped to as much as $5.00 per gallon. EBay even had to temporarily outlaw the selling of New York and Pentagon-related items after pieces of cement, supposedly from both the WTC and the Pentagon appeared for bid.
But perhaps the most sickening attempt to profit from the tragedy came this week when the CEOs and presidents of the major airlines came to Washington. Somehow, with straight faces, the airlines stood in front of our government and asked for $24 billion to help bail them out. After basically being laughed at (at least as much as one can laugh in a situation like this), they revised the number down to a mere $17 billion.
I know I’ve only been watching news for the past week or so, but did I miss something here? Here’s an industry that cares so little about its customers even the best of them rarely manage to be on time. And one that cares so little about its customers that, despite report after report detailing security risks so big you could fly a Boeing through it, they refused to institute adequate security measures. They allowed 16 hijackers to board four planes carrying knives, resulting in the deaths of 5000 people, forever scarring this nation, and they want the American public to pay for the oversight? That’s almost as appalling as the thought of flying a plane into the World Trace Center to begin with.
Of course they didn’t stop there. After figuring they offended our sensibilities with their plea for money, they offered up their ideas for new, heightened security measures that offend our intelligence:
Armed pilots. This sounds like a bad scene from a Naked Gun movie, but it’s true. The airlines are actually considering arming their pilots with deadly force. Let that sentence sink in for a moment. I shudder to think of the first time a flight attendant accidentally falls against the cockpit door and then gets shot trying to get the pilots’ drink order. Or more realistically, hijackers surprise the pilots who never even have a chance to get to their guns in the first place. As a terrorist, why would you even need to risk getting on a plane with a weapon when there’s plenty onboard already?
Encourage pilots to fight back. The airlines want to let pilots do whatever seems necessary to thwart a hijacking – including barrel rolls and decompressing the aircraft. I’m not making this up. They actually used the phrase "barrel rolls." Look, I know it worked in Die Hard II and Turbulence, that bad movie with Ray Liotta. But it won’t work here. You can’t fly performing a continual barrel roll. And whenever you stop doing your best Blue Angels imitation, the hijackers are going to kill you. Period.
Encourage passengers to fight back. Are you kidding me? What the passengers of the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania did was truly heroic. I watch the families of two of those passengers receive American flags at a Day of Remembrance here in San Francisco. It makes me sick to think the airlines would now expect people to do that. When we’re paying you, part of the payment goes to making sure we get there safely.
One-to-one luggage tracking. While it wouldn’t have prevented this series of hijackings, tracking luggage to confirm that the person who checked it actually gets on the place is a great idea. And it was a great idea 5 years ago when you flat out rejected it as unnecessary and expensive. And it was a great idea 5 years before that when it was first recommended in an independent security review of U.S. airlines. Do yourself a favor and don’t try to take credit for that one.
What other industry could sell a product or service so amazingly flawed, and expect the American public to pay to fix it. Firestone isn’t asking for cash so they can redesign their tires. The computer industry doesn’t ask for a bailout so they can afford to fix all the software bugs. But the airline industry marched into Washington and asked for an amount almost equal to last year’s entire anti-terrorism budget just so they can start making a profit again.
The tremendous loss of life notwithstanding, that may be one of the most horrific stories I’ve heard come out of this tragedy.
Matt would love to be George Plimpton...welll, except for the being dead part. He supplies the doing and the writing. All he asks of you is the reading.
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9.19.01 @ 6:58p
OK, I'm no Delta rep, but here goes ... I used to get as irked as the next gal whenever airplanes showed up late or travel agents sat me next to evangelicals trying to convert me. But, indirectly blaming the airlines here is, I think, a little misdirected. Nothing - short of El Al alone running all flights out of the States - could have prevented this from happening. The fact is the airlines broke no laws. Before Sept. 11, people, by law, were permitted to carry knives on board. (That was an oversight, but the airlines aren't responsible for that.) But knives or not, these barbarians (whom I pray are burning as we speak) would have accomplished this monstrosity regardless. Their weapon was not a box-cutter but intimidation. And, without sky marshalls on board (a practice El Al implements with a 100% success rate), nothing and no one - with the exception of those beautifully brave people who died in Pittsburgh - could have prevented this. Rather than target the airlin
9.19.01 @ 7:04p
es, let's look at the real culprits: the animals themselves and, perhaps (and this is a big "perhaps," because I really don't want to blame anyone who didn't directly do this), a lax CIA.
9.19.01 @ 7:31p
Oh, I agree the terrorists themselves are the ones to blame for all this. But you can't really say the airlines were doing everything they could to prevent it either. And that's mostly because they value profits over everything else. It'd be one thing if they had spent tons of money trying to make flying safe and this still happened. Then maybe I'd be more apt to say, sure, they need some help from the government. But when they act with, at best, a lax attitude, I find it appaling they come begging for money now.
9.20.01 @ 9:32a
Of course any business values profits above all else, but in this case, airlines were meeting customer demand. Things like curbside check-in and e-tickets were intended to maximize convenience. Which customers demanded. Not realizing the impact. Which I think we all realize now.
So if the government doesn't take any action to help the airlines, what happens? At least half of the airlines go out of business, tens of thousands of people are instantly out of work, travel options are radically decreased, and the ripple effect changes the way we work and live in America.
Of course it's all market forces, competition and invisible hand and survival of the fittest and whatnot, but in an extraordinary circumstance like this we might not want to see the results of market forces prevail.
9.20.01 @ 11:10a
Here, here. While I can see your point, matt, jael's comment is right on the money. Sure, we can hem and haw over handing over the big bucks to some corporations who may have disregarded passengers' needs in the past. But that accomplishes nothing. Instead, giving them money will bolster the industry and, as a result, boost Americans' confidence in their airlines, thereby avoiding a crash in that part of the economy. In the meantime, though, I'll have to drive to DC this weekend, as my beloved National is (it's looking like) no more.
9.20.01 @ 11:56a
Yeah, what are they going to do, turn that beautiful airport into a mall? It costs me $50-60 for a cab to either Dulles or BWI, the shuttles are still somewhere over $30, and although there's a cheap train to BWI the extra time and complexity makes most alternatives impractical. Hopefully some of this political push to get National open again will succeed.
Allegra, what brings you to our beautiful city?
9.20.01 @ 1:12p
I think there are other ways to help out the airlines than just handing them a $24 billion check. For instance, why doesn't the government stipulate that the money be spent on the safety recommendations from an independant panel? Or why doesn't the government set up a system where, after a time to implement safety measures, airlines can be fined based upon unannounced government safety checks?
9.20.01 @ 2:58p
But safety and economic collapse are two separate issues. Yes, safety should be cranked up. And maybe the government should pay for that. But that alone will not keep major airlines from declaring bankruptcy, shutting down, and radically degrading the quality of travel.
lee anne ramsey
9.20.01 @ 3:05p
I think blaming the airlines is misguided and reactionary. The fixed costs associated with running an airline are huge, and since they deregulated the airlines, I am not sure that any of them have been super-profitable. But those airport security people who everyone bagged on last week for being "lax" did exactly what they were supposed to do. The box cutters and knives were not illegal. I'm all for air-marshalls and locked cockpit doors, but I am not up for allowing airlines to cease flying and close up shop. Without a means of easy air travel, I will be forced to live in (shudder) Los Angeles in order to make a living.
9.20.01 @ 3:09p
I wouldn't say they're completely separate issues. If passengers know they'll be adequately protected, they'll start flying again.
Since a lack of safety is what caused the economic collapse to begin with, quickly fixing that issue would assumingly reverse the effect.
9.20.01 @ 3:13p
Lee Anne, locked cockpit doors seem like the most obvious answer to me. I'm surprised more people aren't talking about it.
It doesn't seem like it'd be all that hard to retrofit planes with stronger, more reinforced doors that people can't just kick in.
And while that won't necessarily protect passengers, it does stop planes from turning into guided missles.
9.20.01 @ 3:25p
They're not completely separate, but they're not identical, either. Even if airlines are 100% safe, perception is reality, therefore passenger demand will not return to 100% pre-disaster levels. And even if it did, that wouldn't eradicate the effects of the total shutdown for several days last week. As Lee Anne mentioned, the airlines have huge fixed costs. They lost money. They have the prospect of losing more, no matter what security measures are enacted.
I believe cockpit doors are already locked. I think the key, not to pun on it, is what Allegra said: the weapon used was really intimidation. The situation is different now. As a coworker of mine said (just prior to leaving for a flight to London last Friday), there is not a passenger in the world who will now willingly, quietly move to the back of the plane.
9.20.01 @ 5:10p
Keep in mind, they're also losing their shirts in the stock market. It's not just travelers, but investors, who are currently forcing the layoffs and bankruptcies in the Airline industry.
lee anne ramsey
9.20.01 @ 9:39p
Not to mention that it's not just airlines who are losing their shirts - its the whole travel industry. Of course, the Bed and Breakfast Association of America is not asking for government relief, but then again, I don't see american businesses screetching to a halt if some of those places go under.Nor do I see them holding any responsibility at all for the events of 9/11.
Unrelated to the topic of this column, but I've officially decided that BnB's are neither quaint nor charming and are simply creepy.
9.21.01 @ 11:37a
Ironically (or poetically, I can't decide), the airlines are probably much safer to travel on today than they were two weeks ago. People panic at all the wrong times. And just so you know, based on an article my company just released, in the four days following the attack, airlines were paying out $340 million per day with no money coming in. That's over a $1 billion loss in four days.
9.21.01 @ 11:44a
I find it neither ironic nor poetic. The top priority used to be convenience. Now it's security. So naturally flying is more secure. This follows.
9.21.01 @ 12:23p
According to their stock fundamentals, United alone had $19.3 billion in revenue last year. Just because they're losing millions a day doesn't necessarily mean they're in the red.
9.21.01 @ 2:17p
No, but for how long could they weather a significant drop-off in both flights and ticket sales?
9.21.01 @ 2:55p
Cockpit doors have always been locked from the inside. That's why you see stewardesses knocking to be let in with their drink trays.
I wonder if money or marshals can prevent this scenario from repeating. It seems like the terrorists found our weakest point and used it...so, if we make airlines secure, why would they bother with the sky? There's a huge menu of terrorist options in this country. Ships. Buses. Trains. Garbage trucks. You name it. They've got everyone staring into the sky, seems like the logical place to attack from next would be from the ground, or below it. What kind of sewer security does NYC and SF have? Aren't there all kinds of tunnels and shit running under us?
9.21.01 @ 3:16p
Yeah, but I'm not going to stop taking the subway just in case the guy next to me has a bomb and a God complex.
9.21.01 @ 5:21p
One of the scariest things I ever heard was a special on terrorism on ABC after the WTC bombing in '93. They talked about someone walking into the NYC subway system, emptying a small bag of Anthrax, and infecting thousands and thousands of unsuspecting people. Then about a week later everyone comes down with the flu and dies shortly thereafter. It could be just that easy.
9.22.01 @ 12:05p
Yes, do bring up horrible and alarmist possibilities as frequently as you can.
I'm with Adam. I can either be afraid or not. I choose not.
9.24.01 @ 12:00a
Oh, I'm afraid. I'm not going to alter my behavior, they're not going to get me to change my lifestyle, but they definitely scared the crap out of me.
9.24.01 @ 1:32p
That's fair. Bravery isn't being unafraid. Bravery is being afraid and doing what has to be done anyway.
9.24.01 @ 3:36p
I heard an NYC firefighter sum it up pretty well. He said everyone has fears. He had a fear that the rubble would collapse on him while he was digging.
But, he said, the key was not to let your fear make you afraid. Because if he was afraid, fear had overcome him and he couldn't do the job he was there to do.
9.24.01 @ 3:47p
you want to know afraid? try driving bumper to bumper on 95 in the pouring rain for 10 hours. chances are more people are getting injured that way than they would have if they had flown this weekend. airports, national especially, should get back up - things seem pretty darn safe on that front now. and, jael, dc, as always, was up to par. if you haven't already, you should check out the new black cat - bigger, better, with the same cozy red room.
9.24.01 @ 4:17p
My position on fear is this: there's no point to it unless it's severe enough to make me change my behavior. I mean, if I'm really afraid something will happen, I should avoid places I consider dangerous, methods of transportation I consider vulnerable. My fears are not severe enough to require giving up virtually everything I enjoy about my life. Ergo, not afraid. Watchful, though, yes.
The rain here was very heavy last week. Connecticut Ave flooded as I was walking home from the video store. It was positively biblical. Something both eerie and life-affirming about splashing in puddles and wading past stairsteps turned into waterfalls.
lee anne ramsey
9.24.01 @ 6:54p
Ooo. I saw that ABC/ Ted Kopel Antrax show too. Scariest thing I've seen in ages, and it definately has crossed my mind this past week.
However, on the subject of crossing, I personally drove back and forth across the Bay Bridge twice this weekend in an absolute refusal to be terrorized by the rumor that someone was planning to blow up the Bay Area bridges on Saturday. You just can't live your life in fear.
9.24.01 @ 8:39p
Related news note: Today the FAA grounded all crop dusters after the FBI found out that one of the WTC terrorists had repeatedly asked a flight school in south Florida about learning to fly a crop duster.
9.25.01 @ 12:13a
the FAA grounded all crop dusters after the FBI found out that one of the WTC terrorists had repeatedly asked a flight school in south Florida about learning to fly a crop duster.
I'm betting he really was just looking for Cary Grant.
9.25.01 @ 11:07a
Or he was interested in aiding our nation's farmers.
4.2.02 @ 2:08a
Has anyone noticed that United, who 6 months ago cried that they were going bankrupt, has been running 5 commercials per game at $1 million per spot during the entire Final Four?
Does that bother anyone else?
4.2.02 @ 2:22a
Hey! Hey! Stop that. United also ran a buncha ads in our magazine. We want their money and screw the paying customer! The corporate definition of "bankrupt" is: We can only afford to give our top execs a 30 percent bonus rather than a 40 percent bonus.
4.2.02 @ 9:26a
I've noticed. They're all over the place. When I'm broke... I'm broke. But that's just corporate America for you.
And on top of it all, I think they're too "drippy sweet." Like they're sucking up somehow.
michelle von euw
4.2.02 @ 9:34a
The director who made the four-minute clip that opened the Academy Awards was offered the gig based on his United commercials. Which are a bit sappy, as Heather mentioned, but I kind of like them -- especially the one with the guy who gives the hugs.
4.2.02 @ 9:40a
Has anyone seen the JetBlue commercial where the son is reading about why he's proud of his father for being a pilot for Jet Blue - "because he has to be brave, alert," etc.
Then the dad says, "But, son, I don't fly for JetBlue." and the kid says, "Oh. Now I know why mom left."
4.2.02 @ 9:54a
Michelle, you mean Errol Morris? His rep wasn't made by United commercials. But you might be talking about someone else.
michelle von euw
4.2.02 @ 1:52p
Mike, I didn't say Morris' rep was made from the commercials -- I said the Academy saw them, liked them, and said, "hey, can you do a clip for us?" It was in last week's New Yorker.
4.2.02 @ 1:53p
You'd think the Academy would have offered him the job off his documentaries or TV series and not his ads. I didn't actually know he did those commericals. Not sure I've seen them.