3 Links I Love: Spirit’s Pilots Get Slapped in Court, Bad Small City Subsidies, Baltia’s At It Again

Links I Love, Spirit

This week’s featured link:
Amid Cancelations & Delays, Court Orders Spirit Airlines Pilots To Halt Alleged Work SlowdownConsumerist
I thought Consumerist did a nice job of covering the bubbing labor problems over at Spirit. It sounds like the pilots have been slowing down the airline as part of its negotiating strategy, and so Spirit went to court to get that to stop. A temporary restraining order was issued to prevent the pilots from any participating in any shenanigans. This one is likely to get uglier, but hopefully it means Spirit flights will stop canceling as much as they have been lately.

Two for the road:
Small cities to Trump: Don’t kill our airline servicesCNBC
With the exception of routes in Alaska and some remote parts of the Mountain West, I’m not a fan of the Essential Air Service program that provides government subsidies to maintain small city air service. This article uses an example that only highlights my rationale further. The example given is of a traveler who flies to Pueblo, Colorado weekly for work. To get there, he connects through Denver and hops on a subsidized flight down. But it’s not like Pueblo is far. He could very easily get off the airplane in Denver and drive the 2 hour (or less) drive down to Pueblo. If there’s enough demand for a flight, then great. If not, why is the government subsidizing something that could be an easy 2 hour drive? Now, in Alaska it’s different. Some places have no roads to the outside world at all, and I support maintaining service there.

Airline with checkered past plans Stewart-Europe flightsTimes Herald-Record
Good ole’ Baltia is at it again. Now it’s going to rebrand as USGlobal Airways and fly old 767s from Newburgh/Stewart over to Europe. My thoughts on this remain the same as always… I’ll believe it when I see it.

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33 comments on “3 Links I Love: Spirit’s Pilots Get Slapped in Court, Bad Small City Subsidies, Baltia’s At It Again

  1. From my point of view, sitting 100 miles away from an airport that has no international service but which has fair (and increasingly better) hub-bound service that connects to international service, I have a hard time seeing the advantage of establishing European service from small airports like Stewart. There may be a small amount of pent-up demand from the local catchment area, but in the long run I don’t see these flights being very successful without domestic connecting traffic. These flights may do well in Summer, but come Fall/Winter, it’ll be quite another story, specially without a network to connect to at the European end, except maybe with Euro-destination airports that can offer good, easy train connections, like (perhaps) Manchester. My crystal ball says Norwegian may have some level of (continuing) success, but Baltia’s track record pretty well speaks for itself. As I’ve seen mentioned stated a number of times, As I’ve seen mentioned a number of times, I think the best possibility for new service, coverage-wise, would be some sort of cooperation between Southwest and Easyjet or Ryanair, but on the other hand, that would make a trip to anywhere in Europe a multi-hop affair from non-hub cities, which a lot of people just aren’t going to accept, even if a lot of us folks out here are the boonies are quite accustomed to it, even to travel domestically.

  2. I don’t relish a two hour drive at the end of a working day especially coming off a flight, waiting for baggage etc. so could easily be three hours.

    There are secondary benefits to airline service above how much the route costs.

    1. I don’t relish a 2 hour drive either, but frankly, I don’t think such a short flight should be subsidized by the federal government, especially 3x per day. State and local governments can subsidize that, but feds shouldn’t.

      We have to keep small cities and rural people connected, and some places (Alaska) really do need this as there are no alternatives, but many EAS routes are really aren’t “essential” in my opinion. I’d rather see those dollars go to improving TSA, finishing NextGen, and making air travel more compelling as a whole. If you believe benefits are travel more than air related, spend half the money and subsidize greyhound bus service…

      What other/secondary benefits are there? For a 9 seat prop, it’s not like there is really cargo or commerce. And if so, perhaps it should be funded more locally.

    2. I don’t either, but are you willing to pay for my inconvenience? How many people are driving two hours each day to/from work in places like LA or the SF Bay Area?

  3. Re: Small city service, subsidized or not…I doubt that much of the “unsubsidized” service is actually profitable (but I know a way to “fix” it.

    For decades, federal anti-trust laws have made it impossible for airlines to sell or provide transportation by other modes. The result? Uneconomical, complex and no doubt replaceable by a “better way”. I live in Waco (ACT), TX, served these days only by AA regional jets to/fm DFW (but before 9/11, also served by DL to DFW and CO to IAH). The a/c come and go with almost every seat occupied, and fares (once in some cases actually less than some fares out of DFW) are hefty add-ons. By the time I drive 15 minutes to ACT, go through the required pre-boarding wait, clear security & board, I’ve spent 1 1/2 hours for what is, even when the winds out of the South) a 45 minute flight, and a slow transfer of terminals/gates at DFW. Of course, one of ACT’s attractions for local residents remains “Free Parking”.

    By auto from my home, DFW, 123 miles, is at worst 2.5 hours by car, while IAH, even though about 160 miles is an easy “cruising” 3 hours. AUS? No more than 2 hours. If AA or UA (or even WN to DAL) could serve my market with convenient “semi-luxury” bus service at a reasonable price, sold as a part of my airfare, there would be little or no need for air service in markets like ACT (which somebody would have to be a snake oil salesman to convince me is profitable, not even counting the big bucks Waco and the Feds spend on this airport, far more cost efficient as a General Aviation terminal.

    There are other “ACT”s scattered across the country. So blinded are we by the idea that aviation is best, even when uneconomical, we forget that there may be better alternatives, even if laws must be changed. I’m not worried about AA putting Greyhound out of business. Greyhound has managed to do that without AA’s competition.

    1. You have an interesting point with the airlines connecting with bus service.

      To a large extent, however, the demand for those kinds of services are fulfilled by limo/bus/airport shuttle companies, and a quick Google search reveals several options for bus/shuttle service from Waco to the DFW airport. I’m surprised that an airline hasn’t tried to offer shuttle service to the airport as an “add-on” at booking, based on the home address for pax’ credit card. You’d think the airlines would do that just to take a commission for sending business to (existing) shuttle operators.

      I really don’t see the need, however, for tightly coordinated service between ground shuttles and flights, with a few small exceptions. One is the cruise market to get people from the airport to the boat and back, and that seems to be organized fairly well by the cruise lines (just look for all the Disney Cruise bus signs the next time you fly into Miami). Another case where tight coordination is likely needed is where airlines run service from far-away airports in areas where many pax do not own cars; the Newburgh/Stewart example with Norwegian is a prime example of this, which is why Norwegian is coordinating closely with bus service to Stewart from NYC.

      In the end, though, I don’t see how ground shuttle service provided by (or closely coordinated with) the airlines is really a big value add in most cases… At best it would save you a call and a card swipe compared to booking the airport shuttle service directly, and at worst it would introduce intermediaries and confusion.

      1. It is my understanding (long held) that the airlines are by federal anti-trust laws prohibited from offering multi-modal transportation (including even selling tickets for others to provide the services). Because of the attraction/allure of aviation (and because of conditions before substantial slowdowns brought by the TSA and other boarding/check in regulations) short flights (and “regional” a/c) became de rigeur. Now, there are dozens of examples where surface transport would be a more efficient, less costly alternative, but pax are not going to use those services as long as that “fashionable” air travel option exists.

        From cost accounting reasons alone, we could come up with any number of markets better served by surface transport (but only if the “air” alternative didn’t exist). Why, shutting down personnel heavy TSA staffing at small airports would probably save many, many millions in tax dollars (but the TSA would likely want to control who gets on the bus and when!!).

    2. It’s not impossible for airlines to work with other types of transport, and in fact, it already happens every day. Buy a ticket out of Beaumont/Port Arthur and you’re on a bus to Houston/Intercontinental. Today I see United “flights” 2949 at 5:45am, 2946 at 10:40am, and 2947 at 3:35pm. You can also take United “flights” from Philly’s 30th St station on Amtrak up to Newark to connect from there. So it is possible.

  4. I live in a relatively rural area in Wyoming. in Summer we have 2 flights a day via Delta to Salt Lake City and one to Denver via United. I travel a lot and none of these are useful. Instead I drive for 2 hours to Billings, MT where I have a much better choice of flights. The problem is that there is no alternative transportation to Billings; not even a bus. That’s the real problem.

  5. I remember reading that the crux of the Spirit issue was that they can’t actually operate all of their schedule unless their pilots fly a lot of overtime hours. How common is that kind of setup for other carriers? I guess it makes sense for a ULCC to rely on that to keep labor costs low.

    1. It depends on time of year and airline growth plans. As we move into summer, a lot of flying starts to pick up. Due to ALPA, you can’t easily furlough/layoff people, and pilot hiring is not immediate (there is a shortage + training time). So you always are at least a little under need. You cover the gaps by having some people sit on reserve at key bases (sick days, severe delays, cancellations, etc.) but Spirit is smaller, newer, ULCC who operates more point-to-point vs. hub structure. Overtime pay and flying above the minimum hours guarantee is attractive for many crews, especially newer, lower paid ones, and a key tool the airline uses to meet its schedule commitments and keep costs low.

      When labor disputes come up, strategies like work to rules, sick outs, no extra flying, slow taxiing, can all have real impacts at a carrier of any size. More delays, cancellations, and work rule time-outs all snowball out of control as they roll through the rest of day with planes and crews out of position.

      I don’t know to the extent Sprit is different from other carriers, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they are low given their cost preference, growth, and being in negotiations for an agreement (which presumably would affect hiring decisions).

      1. Thanks for the context, Noah. While I know the RLA stipulates that any deviation from typical hours worked counts as a stoppage, it’ll be interesting to see how Spirit or the courts will be able to practically get pilots to take on extra hours.

        If there actually was a coordinated campaign to get people not to fly overtime, that’s one thing, but if there was a situation where enough pilots individually refused to take extra hours in spite of the extra pay, can they actually force people to work?

        1. Never mind. Upon rereading the article, it seems the pilots can be forced to volunteer, as much of an oxymoron as that is.

          From the article:

          “Specifically prohibited actions include, ‘…refusing to accept voluntary or overtime flying.'”

          1. What that means is court stated Pilot’s union cannot encourage membership to, et al, refuse “voluntary or overtime flying.’”

            Courts cannot force employees to work overtime, I think?

          2. This shows just how badly the courts order was crafted. First while the court can enjoin a coordinated effort to stop open time flying and the attempts to force others to do likewise it lacks the authority to force individual pilots to fly open time upon request. You will also note that pilots are prohibited from making maintenance writeups by the court order. Yeah good luck getting that one by the FAA. Were I a crafty and evil minded Spirit pilot I would refuse to write up mx discrepancies in accordance with the court order and then refuse to operate the unairworthy aircraft in accordance with the FARs. This would doubtless create significant problems in their operation.

            Another interesting aspect is “work to rule”. Courts have enjoined this in the past but again a smart and determined pilot group should then insist that the court specify which rules it wants them to ignore. Because in reality again a court cannot force pilots to ignore either company operations manuals or the FARs.

  6. Your piece on the EAS reminded me that it’s been quite a while since you last did a SCASD grant review. Not all government subsidies are bad…

    1. Doug – Well, I stopped the SCASD posts because the proposals are pretty much all the same. It’s just not as interesting to read anymore. Doesn’t mean they’re bad; they’re just boring.

  7. EAS is an old-school approach to a new problem — getting air service for political rather than economic reasons. It needs to go except, as Cranky points out, where it is essential to link people with the rest of the world (aka, Alaska).

    There are creative ways to deal with uneconomical air service. Using shuttles, rail, buses and other ground transportation is one option. A second would be for communities who want unprofitable regional air service, to pay for it. The 403(b) program at Amtrak supports unprofitable in-state rail service in Illinois, California, Missouri and other states. Some communities have paid airlines to serve destinations from their local airport. I believe, at one point, Nashville even bought a route to London Gatwick from BNA.

    We all want universal airline service. We also seem to want someone else to pay for it and it would appear those days are soon coming to an end.

  8. I agree that the whole EAS program needs to be looked at. If a community wants to subsidize what it considers essential air service, let the people in that area decide how they want to do it. Even though the EAS program costs a lot in terms of dollars, it’s a drop in the bucket in overall federal spending. If the government really wants to attack the deficit and debt issues, it needs to do a lot more than cut 2E7ydEAS,

    1. If the gentleman in the piece wants to fly from Pueblo to Denver, he can hire an air taxi service. My father used to do this quite a bit, as he felt it was less costly than the time he’d use driving.

  9. Airports within 100 miles of a top 50 airport should be automatically ineligible for EAS. Problem solved. That keeps it available for remote places in Alaska and elsewhere.

    If there is enough demand for unsubsidized service to the Pueblos of the world, it will be served.

  10. I’m not a fan of EAS except where it is truly needed like Alaska.

    If people can drive 2 hours or more each way to work everyday, they can to the same to get to/from an airport when they need to. And yes, I’ve spent many years driving 2hrs or more to work and back every day.

  11. According to another news article, the subsidy for that Denver-Pueblo flight works out to $484 per passenger. That’s hard to justify, in my opinion.

  12. So no joke, a co-worker (sits in the cube next to mine) just randomly pitched me on Baltia as a “tip”. Apparently bought into them a few years ago and was actually at the stakeholder meeting yesterday. I literally have no idea on how to respond.

    1. OhioExile – I believe the proper response is to turn on your recorder and ask him to explain to you in great detail why this is so great. Then publish!

  13. It’s a total OUTRAGE that a judge can force overtime, prohibit pilots from writing up maintenance items etc.

    Force people to take OT?? I will be onboard with that when the same judge forces our dunces in DC to work until a budget is passed etc.

    The Railway Labor Act was enacted in the 30s to deal with , DUH, the railroads. It’s a total joke. It’s near impossible to strike anyway.

    1. Judges don’t force overtime…. they do come after people and unions that said they would not work overtime as part of a job action. If individuals don’t want to work extra, they have no requirement to do so as long as they don’t make any statements linking their unwillingness to work extra with any reason related to labor negotiations.
      If you have scheduled family and friends time, take it.

  14. If working to rule disrupts a company’s operations, the the company should amend its rules. Asking a court to tell employees to break rules that a company could amend itself is not only bizarre, but a brazen waste of taxpayer money.

  15. Thanks for alerting me that USGlobalAirways is Baltia under another name. My nephew lives in the Hudson Valley, and if they do manage to get off the ground, I will discourage him from booking with them, as their reputation is dreadful.

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