When I first heard about Carol Anne Gotbaum’s sad death at the Phoenix airport last month, I didn’t plan on writing about it. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read about it here.) It’s not that I didn’t find it newsworthy, but it seemed pretty straightforward to me and I didn’t think there was much I could add.
But after reading this opinion piece in the Washington Post yesterday and getting comments about it on another post, I decided to say something.
See, you can blame airlines for a lot of things, but blaming them for this woman’s death is absolutely ridiculous. But let me back up. There are actually two issues here.
First, we have the question about who is responsible for Ms Gotbaum’s death. The author of this article actually has the gall to blame US Airways’ overbooking policies for her death. Now, I can point out all the inaccuracies myself, but instead I’d recommend reading the US Airways response that was published in the Washington Post.
This had nothing to do with overbooking and instead had to do with some strangely erratic actions of a woman clearly in trouble. But let’s move beyond this ridiculousness and get to the meat of the article.
See, I think the author thought that this would be a good incident to help her advance the cause of saying that US Airways is a horrible airline because they bumped her off a flight awhile ago. It’s pretty poor journalism, but we can still try and examine her arguments.
. . . few reports have focused on the fact that the airlines involved, US Airways and its subcontractor, Mesa Airlines, are notorious for overbooked flights.
It’s important to know that almost every airline overbooks (JetBlue not included). The government knows about it and even tracks the number of people who were involuntarily denied boarding. So, let’s look it up. The most recent report shows second quarter 2007 results. Of the 18 airlines reporting, Mesa ranked 9th and US Airways 12th, both actually slightly better than the industry average. In the first quarter, US Airways was still 12th, but Mesa was 14th. This time they were worse than the industry average but hardly the worst offenders. The fourth quarter of last year saw the airlines finish 11th and 12th respectively (out of 19 airlines) and we can go on and on.
Does US Airways overbook? Yes. Do they have denied boardings? Yes. Are they notorious for it? Only if several other airlines are considered notorious for it as well. I don’t see why they should be singled out here. What else you got?
. . . to increase profitability, Mesa understaffs all its sales counters, baggage staff and other personnel and slashed health care and pensions, while US Air overbooks all flights and often issues duplicate seat assignments.
Guilty as charged. But so is every other airline. Why the personal vendetta against US Airways? Oh right, it’s because the author was bumped once.
The pilot told us they were terribly underpaid and overworked and that flying conditions were unsafe.
I have never met a pilot who would willingly fly an unsafe aircraft with passengers on it. This sounds like someone who wanted to get management in trouble because they’re unhappy about their pay. I understand the frustration – regional pilots in general don’t make much money – but if there are truly unsafe conditions, I would assume this pilot would not be flying those planes and would report it.
Other staffers told us that many US Air/Mesa personnel were dispirited and overworked, which often led them to vent their frustration on passengers, in a sort of “kick the dog” syndrome
Again, I don’t see why this is limited to Mesa and US Airways (not US Air). Just about everyone in the industry is overworked and dispirited. Sad but true.
We can go on and on here, but it’s all more of the same. The way I see it, the author has long had a grudge against US Airways and incredibly thought that she could use this woman’s death to nail them. She interviewed a bunch of angry employees to get some more ammo, and there you have it. What I don’t see is any effort to actually check facts and get opposing viewpoints from US Airways’ management.
There have been plenty of intelligent arguments about the bigger question of what is wrong with US Airways, Mesa, and this industry overall (answer: a lot), but this is clearly not one of them. This is just a poor attempt at a smear job.