Air Line Pilot, May 2001President's Forum: Hypocrisy Defined
Webster’s Dictionary defines hypocrisy as a "feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion."
Hypocrisy may have recently reached its zenith as airline executives who have professed a devout belief in the free-market system and have often sworn that our industry has robust competition with a wide variety of consumer choices have reversed themselves and begged for governmental intervention in free market collective bargaining. They say they want to protect consumers from a strike—apparently they must now believe that competition in their markets is inadequate.
Let’s contrast this new strong desire for governmental intervention in the marketplace with their previously stated positions. At many congressional hearings on ATC delays (caused in part by airline managements, in vigorous competition, scheduling more flights than can be efficiently handled), at any suggestion that the government should intervene to help reduce delays, especially during peak hours at major hub airports, airline managements howled that we have a competitive, deregulated industry and must allow the marketplace to solve the problem.
When members of Congress proposed various forms of legislation, commonly referred to as the Passenger Bill of Rights, airline managements again passionately argued that free markets must be allowed to operate without government interference and that all the benefits of deregulation to consumers would be lost if the government begins meddling with free markets.
When various consumer groups petitioned the Department of Transportation to adopt a competition policy that would limit airline managements’ ability to price their product or to add or retract capacity from the marketplace, these same executives became positively apoplectic as they declared that a DOT competition policy would be tantamount to reregulation and that every consumer should be totally indignant about DOT’s restricting pricing freedom. Nearly every major airline executive has sworn to Congress that predatory pricing does not exist in our industry and that new entrants need no protection because the industry is already highly competitive. The top 10 major hubs give consumers multiple options, the executives unanimously declared. In fact, most of these same executives have even argued that the industry could endure another round of airline consolidation and still leave consumers with lots of options.
Amazingly enough, these same executives who preach with evangelical fervor about free-market principles and the abundance of competition now claim just the opposite when they shamelessly beg for government intervention in collective bargaining. To make their case for a Presidential Emergency Board—or worse, a congressionally imposed contract—those airline executives change their tune and claim that the economy will be harmed if their airline is shut down because of a legal strike. What happened to all that hub competition they talked about?
The 30-day cooling-off period provides constructive notice to consumers to make alternate travel plans. That’s the law, and that’s enough. Collective bargaining is a free-market principle—either you believe in it or you don’t. Either adequate competition exists or it does not. Airline managements cannot have it both ways.
s/Duane E. Woerth