Frequent Flier Freak-Out

Steven Slater is now officially a superstar. He is the flight attendant who, after a run-in with a passenger, shouted obscenities into the PA system of a Jet Blue flight after it had landed in New York, then slid down the emergency chute that he had deployed. Slater then went home where he was arrested for criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing.


After decades working as a flight attendant, Slater has in one single act of frustration  expressed the outrage that air passengers have been talking about since time immemorial… much of it caused by air passengers’ own bad behavior in the first place.


Just imagine what it is like flying every day as Slater did in his job. Phew!


Americans from coast to coast are ready to anoint Slater as Emperor of the Air. He will be sought out for interviews, a Reality TV show, and held up as a hero for expressing publicly what millions have felt privately. In fact, the whole story is really pretty funny if it were not so truly revealing.


What is the real message in Slater’s tantrum?


It is this: America’s private-sector airline system is the best in the world, available to all citizens at low cost. And that is why it has become the subject of endless scrutiny, criticism and ridicule. Because it serves all the people, using no tax money whatsoever.


It offers excellent service for low prices. After all, coast-to-coast in six hours for a few hundred bucks is a bargain, considering the alternative, that is.


Perhaps, however, the prices are too low. Because capitalist deregulation and competition have produced bargain tickets (as usual) that allow the common rabble to fly as well as the elites. It was primarily only rich people who could afford to travel before airline deregulation in 1978.


There’s an old saying: “Young man, stay out of the retail business” because of the constant contact with the public. But put that public in crowded airports and on cramped airplanes, often under severe conditions, mix in invasive security measures and lost luggage and a public expecting seamless travel and you have a formula for disaster. Amazingly, the system works very well.


Considering what the system achieves in moving 750 MILLION ticketholders a year around the nation, however, it is surprisingly nimble and cheap, with only the occasional big screw-up.


How can airlines operate so efficiently? Well, once you are in the air, there are no roads or railroad tracks to maintain. And so the airlines can devote their resources to moving large numbers of passengers at low cost with only an airport at each end for infrastructure.


That is never enough for the anti-capitalist left, however. Airlines have been targeted for decades by so-called consumer activists who are always seeking to pass passengers’ bills of rights, investigate ticket prices and complain about every crowded airport lot and lost bag.


But look at the way the airlines are criticized and compare it to the abysmal service offered by government-run Amtrak and you have the difference between night and day.


Amtrak, which gets rock-star media treatment, has an on-time record and service record that are horrendous. Amtrak is expensive. Its staff is notoriously rude and inattentive, and for good reason – they are unionized government employees.


And Amtrak is just a railroad running on the ground. Doesn’t sound too tough, does it? But Amtrak manages to screw that up too. The airlines, on the other hand, fly trillions of miles through the air every year, and serve about 28 passengers for every single one served by Amtrak. Because travelers can rely on the airlines, despite all the whining. They know they can reliably get from Boston to Seattle in about six hours flying time without a penny of government subsidy. If they couldn’t, the airlines would go broke.


Is the airline system overly democratic? Perhaps. Deregulation allowed airlines to operate with less government intrusion and, as always, they competed for customers and got them. By the millions. And this is what has created the traveling frenzy today and the tantrum by Steven Slater – capitalist economic success. In short, so many darned passengers.


But, hey, if you don’t like the service, pay much more and fly first class. Like everyone used to. Or stay home.


Now the lefties want America to invest in a hugely expensive passenger railroad system like Europe’s. Only thing is, we already have the most efficient rail system in the world. It carries 1.9 trillion ton-miles of freight per year, also without a penny of government subsidy. Euro rail systems carry mostly passengers and consume huge government outlays, while its highways are clogged with trucks because Euro trains carry little freight.


So we Americans are doing well with out private railroads and private airlines. We should stick with them as they are. But that is never good enough for the Democrats and their attack-dog allies in the media. Airlines are constant targets of harassment and the Steven Slater incident is going to blow it all into the open again.


Remember Valentine’s Day 2007 when a huge storm blanketed the East Coast, trapping passengers on the runway on another Jet Blue flight for hours and hours? The media made a national scandal of it and now consumer groups are demanding limits on passenger time on the tarmac. But if passengers are mandated by law to deplane after a certain number of hours, and then the skies clear, who will be the first to complain that the trip was delayed?


The same ‘consumer activists’ who have demand passengers’ bills of rights in the first place, that’s who.


The airlines cannot win. They are hammered by unionized employees in one direction, high fuel costs in the other, an irate public here and an anti-airline media there. But somehow, they survive.




Because they are good free-market institutions that roll with the punches. Sure some airlines have gone out of business and ticket prices go up and down and sideways according to a million different factors. And bags get lost. And sometimes indeed there is bad service.


But in a private-sector system, all those factors can be accounted for. It is not a straight-jacket operation like Amtrak or the Postal Service that cannot adapt. And thus Steven Slater’s tantrum may have been a sign of the times, but it really is just another puff of steam being let off in a raucous free-market system. The airlines are essential to the everyday life of America, and it is a system that Americans come back to again and again, despite its faults and bad press dished out by a hostile media.


Happy flying, America!


Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more. You can print out for free my book, Right Is Right, which explains why only conservatism can maintain our freedom and prosperity.