That piece from Matt Welch the other day is the gift that keeps on giving:
Instead, I’ll close with this: The “worldview” of libertarianism suggested, back in the early 1970s, that if you got the government out of the business of setting all airline ticket prices and composing all in-flight menus, then just maybe Americans who were not rich could soon enjoy air travel.
Frontline, this Tuesday:
Last February, Continental Flight 3407 crashed outside of Buffalo, N.Y., killing 49 people onboard and one on the ground. Although 3407 was painted in the colors of Continental Connection, it was actually operated by Colgan Air, a regional airline that flies routes under contract for US Airways, United and Continental. The crash and subsequent investigation revealed a little-known trend in the airline industry: Major airlines have outsourced more and more of their flights to obscure regional carriers.
Today, with regional airlines accounting for more than half of all scheduled domestic flights in the United States and responsible for the last six fatal commercial airline accidents, FRONTLINE producer Rick Young and correspondent Miles O’Brien investigate the safety issues associated with outsourcing in Flying Cheap.
“No doubt in our mind that when she’s buying this ticket, she’s buying a flight on Continental,” says Scott Maurer, who lost his daughter, Lorin, on 3407. “She believed she had Continental pilots and Continental safety and Continental service, but, you know, we know different today.”
An investigation of the crash by the National Transportation Safety Board was recently completed and identified pilot error as a major factor in the accident. But the investigation has also put the spotlight on operations of regional airlines like Colgan Air, where the first officer on 3407 had made less than $16,000 the previous year and the captain had failed five flight tests and received inadequate training on a critical safety system involved in the crash.
We’ll call it a moral victory for libertarianism.
None of the passengers aboard that flight will ever buy another ticket from that airline, to much nodding and backslapping from the Reason crowd: “See? It works!”
I flew to Kentucky and Chicago last month and three of the four legs of the trip were by regional carriers. Unless I’m going overseas, if I have one stop I assume that the second leg will be of the “leave your carry-on by the side of the plane and pick it up later” variety. And more and more often it’s also of the “walk on the tarmac to the plane what do you mean gate?” variety.
And their relatives can sue the airline for damages (the only libertarian approved solution to bad stuff happening). See? It works!
And in libertarian cloud cuckoo land, neither the FAA nor the National Transportation Safety Board would exist.
Yeah, but these same yahoos are in favour of “tort reform”.
You commie pinko libruls just have wayyy tooo much time on your hands bitching about everything. Sometimes accidents just happen. It’s just a too bad so sad deal.And, really, its quite unAmerican for you to criticize Continental, a good upstanding corporate citizen which is just trying to get by and maximize returns for their stockholders.
@Gozer: Well, if you have the money then you can sue the companies. If you don’t have the money, well, too bad. Free market baby!!!
There has to be a way we can outsource the pilot and crew from some country where they can be paid less than $16K/yr. Just that nobody has figured it out yet.
On the upside, maybe a foreign pilot can pass the test after only three tries, an improvement.
Hey, that’s not fair. As Rand Paul said about plane crashes:
Oh, my bad. He said that about the BP spill.
And while I’m glad this is finally being discussed, I disagree that this is “a little-known trend.” As Emma noted, each time you fly you’re spending more and more time on the regional carriers.
michael moore was one of the first to highlight the appalling low salaries of those regional pilots. there are also stories of them being too poor to afford hotel rooms and they sleep in cars or on friends’ couches if they have layovers. not reassuring.
What’s your point? The man said Americans who weren’t rich could enjoy air travel. And thanks to deregulation, they can. Nobody said anything about landing.
Americans who can’t afford to fly are now the pilots. Everybody wins.
Feedom isn’t fee.
I say the survivors start blowing up the other planes that airline owns! Who’s with me?!
Drivers for Greyhound make more than pilots for regional carriers. Another example of the Invisable Hand of the Market. Being an airline pilot carries a much higher factor of cool than bus driver, so there’s a lot more competition for places and lower salaries
@bkny: @<a There was a long piece on NPR – I think TAL – about an LAX parking lot which has become a rec vehicle lot for airline workers because it was essentially cheaper for them to maintain this than a home/hotel rooms.
@wenchacha: Hell, it’s all going autopilot in 10 years anyway. Google has an app in the works using Google Earth. They’ll go to a backup pilot who also passes out drinks.
Geez, I guess I’m naive. I always assumed airlines paid for the hotel rooms for their flight crews. That would fucking suck.
yes, it’s a multi-pronged success for libertarians: deregulation leads to price competition, yielding cheaper product, albeit with safety issues. Price competition additionally leads to mergers, acquisitions, and bankruptcies. With the bankruptcies, pensions and benefits are wiped out. Decades of tenure and savings destroyed, with only a reduced payroll offered–if anything–to keep working.
And don’t forget the tangent great triumph of the anti-labor movement: firing of the union air traffic controllers by Saint Ronnie of Reagan.
Thanks for posting this John; I hope people tune into the show. Clearing security at the airport may be the least of your worries when flying.
When I was a child, back before the great boon of deregulation, we had flights to the relatively small town I grew up in. Even though my parent’s were teachers, they did pay for my brother to fly back home from college.
Today, to fly from the town I grew up in, my mom now has to drive 80 miles (or get a friend to drive her) often stay overnight at a hotel and then go to a regional hub. The cost of the flight is about the same once adjusted for inflation. Woo Hoo for deregulation
@Brachiator: Have you forgotten Tort Reform? You can sue under Tort of Negligence but the short sighted republicans wanted a reform to curtail the damages you could get. That DANG fence!!
Ah yes, airline deregulation. Happened under Carter, pushed by Ted Kennedy. Those intrusive big-gov’t liberals!
But I think you’re conflating route deregulation (good) and safety deregulation (not).
@ Bill Murray
Of course, route deregulation has sucked for the smallest markets. I suspect it’s still saved the average (mean or median) traveller lots of money, but others lost travel options.
Ah, the libertarian model. Everything works great until it doesn’t, then you get your money back. Never mind the dead and dying.
Let’s see, a partial list of things that always work, until they don’t, that really suck when failure happens.
4. Oil wells On or off shore
6. Trucks and Buses
9. Health care
Only one is not man or man made. And weather doesn’t really fail, it just sucks sometimes. Everything else can and will fail at some time. Not every one of them all the time, but they all have the potential to fail catastrophically. Wouldn’t be nice to lessen that potential? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to breathe clean air, drink water that isn’t poison and eat food that doesn’t make you sick? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that every day life is not a crap shoot? Or shootout? Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an organization that worked for us to lessen that risk? That wasn’t for sale to the highest bidder? I think I just described a properly working government. Well maybe not the one we have now but I think that is the idea.
If all of those passengers would have bought pricey food and drinks, then the airline could have afforded to pay the pilots more.
They wouldn’t have, but still…
$16K per year. Really? WTF?
Libertarians lead with total deregulation and mainstream Republicans follow with tort reform.
Hardcore libertarians would shrug and say that you just should accept the risk, including risk of death. I presume that a perfect libertarian is one who would never file a lawsuit.
Assuming that he or she survived.
Considering how many 10s of millions of people who fly annualy, the industry does pretty well on safety. Did Colgan cut corners? Looks like they probably did on training, pay and corporate culture.
But by and large, as an outsider who reads a ton of aviation stuff for fun, I think the US airline industry does a remarkable job. Deregulation of the airline industry has happened in much more of a conventional liberal model than an ideologically libertarian way, anyway.
There is still descent regulation – though one area I am not happy about is offshore heavy maintenance: that is the next bugaboo after pilot rest hours and base stationing (the Colgan issue writ large) gets dealt with.
But to indicate that the airline industry operates in a libertarian free market is silly, and not reflected in the facts. American, Southwest and others have paid pretty notable maintenance fines of late. Crew hours are longer than should be, but not unregulated as the Randians would have it. And more, but this post is long enough….
These are all very good points, and emphasizes that libertarians lie when they claim that their ideas have been implemented or that, if implemented, would bring some magical nirvana.
No kidding. That’s minimum wage based on a 40-hr week.
Of course these pilots are probably raking a princely $18/hr and being forced to fly 2 12-hour shifts a week or some bullshit.
You people should be glad your Glibertarian Randroid Overlords let you leave the factory or the field!
How DARE you complain about air safety!!
Talk about ungrateful soshulizm!
I’m not for repeal of the 14th amendment, and I’m not going to be sucked in to some librul agenda talking points where my feelings about it could be asked and….
I’m not so sure. If you’re paying attention, you’ll see the “operated by wasaba airlines” in fine print under the big NORTHWEST AIRLINES on your ticket…
But when the monitors in the airport, the counters, the baggage tags, the airplanes themselves, the little safety book about the jet and the in-flight magazine all say NORTHWEST… And your flight attendant in their NORTHWEST uniform “Thanks you for flying NORTHWEST,” one might get the impression you’re flying on NORTHWEST—a major airline with all that (hopefully) entails: experienced crews, safe aircraft, actual maintenance and mechanics, etc.
Bill Murray: You don’t live in Kentucky, do you? There’s a saying among the people in the town I visit: even if you go to hell, you have to go through Atlanta. I was sent back to Atlanta and then on to Chicago where a direct flight would have lasted less than an hour.
Here’s Michael Moore on pilots:
On the other hand, as the French (who love their unions) say, Michael Moore est gros.
This is just more evidence of the system working. How many private Lear jets have crashed in Buffalo? These folks could have paid more for this lower risk more comfortable option, instead, like playing the market, the chose the lower cost higher risk option. Just like you cannot buy a junk bond and expect a sure 20% return, you cannot buy a cheepo commercial plane ticket and expect a sure landing 100% of the time. The crash might be the result of “pilot error”, however the loss of life is the unfortunate consequence of human risk taking that’s really nobodys fault except those folks who bought those plane tickets and died. If they were so risk averse that they didn’t want to die, they should have actually valued their lives more by purchasing fractional ownership in NetJets instead. If you bought a car with a cardboard bumper because it was cheap and then got in an accident and died, I cannot see how it’s anyones fault but your own. Same is true here. They wanted all the upside of cheap air travel but thought they didn’t have to bear any of the risk, well I think we all know how that turned out. Sadly we are a nation filled with economically illiterate consumers, like Scott Maurer, who think they can have their cake and eat it too, all for free.
I wonder if any of these libertoons ever think about how much saying “caveat emptor” on everything flies in the face of a basic economic insight. Adam Smith pointed out that specialization leads to greater productivity, which leads to greater prosperity. But if we are all left to fend for ourselves every time we make a purchase, then we all will end up spending a lot of time checking our meat for salmonella or our cars for crash-worthiness or our choice of airlines for their maintenance procedures. All of that would chew up time that we would otherwise spend being productive ourselves, or learning how to be more productive. Sure, we could pay private companies to do the analysis for us, but we would still have to analyze the ratings companies, and huge free-rider issues would promptly appear. (The problems with the credit ratings agencies are a good example of the potential pitfalls.) In the end, we’re much better off with the government stepping in and developing unbiased (theoretically – government officials can be bought) expertise in certain regulatory matters using mandated funding (via taxes or user fees). Doing so allows the rest of us to spend more time on our own areas of specialization. Or pointing out that libertoons are wankers.
I wonder if any of these libertoons ever think
Wonder no more my friend. They spend very little, if any, time thinking.
It is about believing! You must believe the invisible hand fairy will keep your food safe and that in the end (albeit you’ll be dead) it’ll all work out just fine.
Perhaps a different Airplane quote would be more fitting.
Okay, except safety, including maintenance, pilot training, and pilot testing, explicitly weren’t deregulated in 1978. And downgrading of flights from trunk airlines (United, American, etc.) to regional airlines (Allegheny, North Central, etc.) and from the regionals to local-service airlines (the predecessors of Colgan) already was occurring in the 60’s and 70’s under regulation. Now, if your point is that safety regulation under the FAA went to hell under the Bush administration (entirely possible), how exactly would that be different were there still a CAB regulating fares and routes? The Bush administration still would have existed, and would have made exactly the same appointments to the FAA.
My question is exactly how would air travel be better for the average American were the federal government still in the business of setting the level of fares, deciding which airline could fly which route, and keeping new entrants out of the business?
Sure, flying would be more pleasant for business travelers, with lower non-advance-purchase fares, and half empty planes, but would it be safer? By what mechanism, exactly?
If your answer to everything is “The free market,” you don’t have to think a lot.
Were any major airports built privately? I don’t think aviation as we know would be remotely possible without significant government investment in infrastructure. I don’t think a modern economy is remotely possible on purely libertarian principles.
@PeakVT: You obviously don’t realize the potential for private enterprise to step in and provide “certification” systems to promote food safety. By performing this function, the government is actually crowding out free enterprise and performing this “regulatory” function more inefficiently than private industry ever would. Adam was right, free enterprise does lead to specialization, it is just that we have been coddled by government for so long we don’t realize the possibilities.
I think you have it right when you put “scare quotes” around certification.
Private companies would provide certification in the same way the Moody’s provided credit certifications to the investment banks. Since they would lose contracts if they were too tough we would all have to get used to a certain degree of food-poisoning we were willing to put up with. But don;t worry if too many people died then there would be fewer airline passengers, and we all would get better seats.
For anyone who finds this stuff interesting, you should be reading Patrick Smith’s column, Ask a Pilot, at Salon. Here’s the one related to the Colgan crash. He has many good links in there to the related issues.
Then again, I also favor “ask your favorite jet engine repair design engineer what he’s working on at the moment.” But that’s pretty easy, since it only involves a phone call to the dad.
@Brandon: [email protected]#35, after reading your comment, I say this: your sense of humor is either way too dry, or you’re a fucking idiot.
@Ken: I’m siding with dry humor; otherwise, there’s no hope for humanity.
$18 / hour? Dear FSM, that’s below entry level for an engineer without an EIT, much less a PE.
@Emma: My Mississippi grandmother’s line was “It doesn’t matter if you’re going to Heaven or Hell, you have to go through Atlanta.”
And that was back in the railroad days.
Felanius Kootea (formerly Salt and freshly ground black people)
Well, all I have to say is that Inter-Somalia and Jubba airlines in Somalia have never had their planes crash, so the Libertarians must be onto something.
Um– yes, you should. In the giant metal thingy going up in the air and coming down, you should get it right 100% percent of the time– regardless of the price. Sure accidents happen, but they should not be part of the price of admission.
Bonnie L. McLellan
I am sick to death of the myth of private enterprise “efficiency”. Cut it out. How would I or could I depend upon a private enterprise, hiding behind a P.O. Box and a DBA name, to promote food safety? How could I trust that the food manufacturerer and the food safety regulator are not the same person?
John, you should post this stuff in a Reasonoid comment thread. Gawd, that magazine is lame.
@Emma: No I’m from South Dakota, but the experience is the same when you live very far from a hub.
@Warren Terra: That may be true but that was not what was argued by Matt Welch. Deregulation has made air travel more difficult (although the reduction in many other methods may have made it more often used) and likely more expensive for much of middle America, which includes quite a few non-rich people. That’s one reason why it’s called flyover country
Gem-quality snark, baby. Bra-vo!
I hope it’s snark– if it is his wit’s so dry it makes the Sahara look like the rain forest.
Oh yeah? What about Somalia?
Oh, I know, you’re thinking, “But their whole economy is based on piracy!” Exactly! Consider: any time you hear you hear Somalian pirates discussed in the media, what do they call their industry? Modern-day piracy, that’s what!
Q. E. D.
Because, you know, once enough people die, people will stop flying on the airline and it will go out of business.
The Reason crowd gets really pissy when heathens bring up Somalia:
Stone Age Barter and Kill.
In Modern Economies we have lawyers to do the dirty work for us.
@Trish B and Ken, as someone who overdoes the sarcasm a bit myself, I can see that Brandon is not being serious. I hope ;-)
In other words, they still don’t have an answer for that, do they?
Grace L. Ferguson Airlines.
@Citizen_X: Exactly. Really, what could they say?
And, it sucked to be a hub city, too. When Northwest existed. we paid roughly thirty percent more for the ‘privilege’ of being a hub city. I hate flying with a passion these days for many of the so-called libertarian reasons. It just sucks.
P.S. I vote that Brandon was being highly sarcastic.
This is what I don’t like about libertarians. They don’t give you the option of complaining about the service before you are dead.
I have to say, I’d have a lot more respect for “libertarians” (although still probably not enough to bring it anywhere close to a positive balance) if they’d stand up for plaintiff lawyers and against Tort Deform, and if they’d acknowledge that some sort of safeguards are necessary against not just public but also private infringements of liberty. They always seem to be first in line to denounce government action, but nowherre to be found when the private sector is at fault.
Felanius Kootea (formerly Salt and freshly ground black people)
@roshan: I guess you can sue in the afterlife, so they got that covered.
@Ken: I guess someone’s wife has a headache tonight. Sheesh.
@Citizen_X: Thank you sir. At least someone gets it.
I actually challenge people to go through that intellectual exercise of developing a glibertarian counterpoint on these things. Because the very odd thing is that you feel like you are being absurd and outrageous as you trying to develop their argument, but once you write it down, it’s like whoah. I can imagine one of them making this exact same argument. In fact, I think I heard Paul Gigot/Steve Forbes/Newt Gingrich/Rush Limbaugh say the exact same thing. It’s an out of body experience. To actually reach for and attain the depths of their philosophy with minimal mental effort and in just one minute is truly an out of body experience.
The problem is that those people don’t understand the difference between primitive or pre-agrarian libertarianism and modern industrial libertarianism. How can Libertarians have a proper argument if people won’t do basic research?
And Storm Door Company.
Regional pilots make about $21/hour our first year, Colgan is slightly below that for 1st year new hire First Officers.
The way it works is like this, we can fly 8 hours max in a day and be “on duty” for 16 hours in a day. We can work 6 days in a row, and have to have one day off, then can be back on for six more days.
Our overnights (hotel rooms) are paid for by the company on a trip, however we are on our own for nights “outside the trip footprint” i.e. the night before the trip or after.
Our lives a hardly glamorous, and if most of us did not love the job, we’d have left it long ago.
Glad to hear *someone* “enjoys” flying!
Bill E Pilgrim
Libertarianism: the stale egg salad sandwich of political philosophies.
Well, let’s not get hung up on looking back here, when we could be moving forward.
Between the TSA lines, the losing of the luggage, the possibly-lousy pilots…
Just point me towards the nearest Cessna instead, okay?
Gee I didn’t know that Jimmy Carter was a libertarian. He deregulated airlines. I also think it was the right policy choice. US airlines, outsourcing and all, are very safe.
Oh please. Where are you going to find a lawyer in Heaven?
Mark S. @40 wrote: “Were any major airports built privately? I don’t think aviation as we know would be remotely possible without significant government investment in infrastructure. I don’t think a modern economy is remotely possible on purely libertarian principles.”
I recall back around 2001-2002, seeing an article which added up the income for the whole air travel industry, back to the early 1900s. It was essentially break-even; as a whole, the industry had made no profit. Also, that was ignoring air traffic control, airports, etc. that were subsidized or outright provided by governments.
Pre-agrarian? Wouldn’t that be hunting and gathering? I think Somalia is a little beyond that.
Regardless, that raises an interesting question: What is the best way for a developing country to become developed? IMO, libertarianism would be an awful way to go about it. You need significant investment in education, infrastructure, etc. My problem with libertarianism is that it completely overlooks public goods. Educating a largely illiterate agrarian population is not something that’s going to reap rewards in the short term, so you need an entity that’s not completely profit driven to do it.