“Safety is our number one priority,” extolled the United Airlines customer service representative I had pigeon holed into explaining how an airline can remain in business when six flights had been canceled on me in two weeks. During the same time period, four others had been so delayed that I missed two meetings and had driven five hours from Traverse City, Michigan, to Detroit after my only fight home had been canceled from Grand Rapids. “Sure it is”, I sarcastically responded. ”If I ran my business like you do, I would not have a business.”
I felt sorry for the guy actually. Considering my experience with the airline (a 1K flyer, meaning I spend my life at airports and hypothetically I get better treatment because of my “preferred status”), I can only imagine how horrible this man’s life must be these days. Just not as bad as the infamous JetBlue flight attendant.
So let’s put it all on the table. The airline apologizes for the canceled flights, but those cancellations were due to mechanical problems and “Remember, Mr. Dougherty, safety is our number one priority.”
What am I supposed to say to that? “I don’t’ care about safety, just get the #&?%#@# plane in the air.” Hardly. But the truth is the reason for all the mechanical issues has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with the fact that the airlines are flying an aged fleet of jets and pushing them to the very limit of endurance in an effort to squeeze every dollar out of the old birds. Safety is a convenient catchall defense for bad business practices, a terrible business model and a failure to understand that getting somewhere and getting there on time are as different as fast food and haute cuisine.
Years ago, I had a Professor at Trinity College in Dublin tell me that the greatest work of Irish fiction was the Dublin bus schedule. Well, the greatest work of American fiction is the airline schedule. Looking back, it may just be the world’s greatest work of fiction.