Over the past week, Spirit Airlines cancelled over 1700 flights, a jaw-dropping 60 percent of its schedule, and stranded thousands of passengers in airports across the country. And though Spirit has garnered the most attention for its incompetence, American Airlines struggled as well with 350 cancelled flights. Since American is a much larger airline, this amounted to only 11 percent of its schedule, but thousands of their passengers were stranded just the same.
Pictures filled Twitter with abysmally long lines of travelers waiting for flight re-assignments—many of which never came—and sleeping on terminal floors. And it would appear the worst has not passed as the airline’s CEO said cancellations will continue into the following week as they “work to rebuild their network.”
Those cancelled flights represent more than travel stress. These are people who missed weddings, funerals, speaking engagements, job interviews, vacations, and graduations. Many of these people had to spend hundreds of dollars out of pocket to make other travel arrangements. And those who could not afford to were simply stuck in airports for days on end.
To say this is unacceptable is an understatement.
Americans have increasingly grown accustomed to worsening conditions on airlines. I often joke and say I fly Southwest because they’re the only airline that gives you human rights right out the gate. The rest you have to earn status on first.
But am I joking? I mean…barely.
Airlines nickel and dime people for every little thing—luggage, seat assignments, legroom, a chair that reclines 3 inches, snacks, wifi, the list goes on. A flight is one of the most expensive purchases an average person might make in a month, typically running $200 and up, yet the customer is treated like a beggar being done a tremendous favor by the airlines. Want a customer service rep or even a call-back service? Good luck. Need to change your travel plans? That will be another $200. Will your luggage you paid $50 to transport make it to your destination? Haha, maybe.
And all of this is in addition to the long lines and/or expensive fees one must pay to go through the TSA process. TSA is security theater that we taxpayers pay for—once on the front end, and again for Pre-Check if we value our time. In 2019, the TSA missed 67 of the 70 fake weapons that went through checks, a failure rate of 95 percent. But you know what they will find and take? Your expensive face wash that’s 0.5 oz too big, or your hairspray you forgot to take out of your bag.
This industry is a joke. And it’s only been able to survive like this thanks to its entwinement with the government.
Recently, the airlines received billions of dollars in the COVID Stimulus package passed under President Trump. Spirit Airlines received $330 million of your tax dollars, and the industry at large got a $58 billion bailout—allegedly to keep staff on the payroll and maintain essential operations.
Yet, notably, Spirit’s CEO blamed their cancellations on a shortage of flight attendants and pilots this week. According to him, their crews ran out of eligible hours to work towards the end of the month (the hours they’re allowed to fly are legally mandated), and their system did not have enough slack to cover the gap. The airlines also tried to blame weather for the delays, but CBS News Travel Expert Peter Greenberg called their bluff on that. In his statements to their outlet, he explained that the airlines had indeed furloughed much of their crew during the pandemic and are now struggling to bring them back to meet demand.
Sounds like somebody didn’t hold up their end of the bailout bargain.
One reason they might be struggling to attract employees back to the skies is due to the airlines’ asinine mask policy. Both passengers and crew, vaccinated or not, must now go through another security theater ordeal and wear a mask at all times. That on top of the increase in unruly passengers on flights could explain the hesitancy for workers to come back to the airlines.
From start to finish, this entire ordeal is a perfect summary of why there are no bailouts in real capitalism. In a free market these bozos would have been bankrupt a long time ago. And that would have been great for the consumer, the employees, and the economy.
Airline travel is an essential industry, yes. But it doesn’t mean we need to bailout those currently operating in it. Because it is an essential industry there will always be a demand for providers and money to be made. When we let bad businesses fail, we merely open up room in the market for better businesses to compete and build on top of their ruins.
Crony political deals like the Stimulus mean taxpayers must pay to keep businesses afloat that treat them like garbage, while simultaneously preventing consumers from accessing better competitors who might enter a market should the dinosaurs be allowed to fail. Both parties are responsible for continuously passing bailouts, so while you’re on hold with Spirit’s customer service call and yell at your congressional representatives too.