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Grounded

August 21, 2000

It's a statistic that should spark outrage in anyone that chooses to fly. Over half of all flights in the U.S. are not on time. Is this possible? How can airlines get away with this? Shouldn't competition in the airline industry weed out these chronically late offenders?

The answer is, competition would do this, if the airline industry were truly in a free market. The trouble with air travel begins almost immediately at the immensely inefficient and government run airport. Nearly every major airport in this country is funded by taxpayers and run by the local government.

This tribute to government waste is not only responsible for the amazingly poor service that is seen at airports, but it is also responsible for wide spread corruption in the industry that causes all of us to pay more for plane tickets.

Let's begin by explaining why service at airports is so poor. Think about the service you get when you go to a privately run, for profit business such as a fast-food restaurant. The employees are very similar to those you find at the typical airport, i.e., young and/or poorly educated.

However, there is a huge difference in how these employees treat their customers. At the fast-food restaurant, the employees actually care about their customers, or more importantly, they have incentive to care. If a customer is treated poorly, he or she can go straight to the manager and complain about poor service. You can be sure that the manager is compensated for increased profit and customer satisfaction, which will lead to good customer service.

Now let's look at the incentive of government-employed airport workers. If I'm flying United Airlines, I do not have a United Airlines employee taking care of my bags. I don't have an airline employee preparing the gates for takeoff and landing. I don't have an airline employee managing the flow of luggage coming off the planes. I don't have airline employees de-icing the wings or refueling the planes.

In short, these workers don't care about the people they supposedly serve because they don't report to the airline. They report to a huge bureaucracy that has zero incentive to provide good customer service. They have no competition due to their government imposed monopoly, which leaves airline customers at their mercy.
The trouble does not end at the airport though. The skies are also controlled by a government monopoly called Air Traffic Control under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). According to the FAA, the federal government must control the skies because we cannot trust the airlines with our safety.

Think about it. Who do you trust more with your packages for delivery, the U.S. Postal Service or UPS? There's a reason why we all trust UPS more. It's because they are a private company with competition and profit incentives. Similar to the U.S. government postal monopoly, the FAA has no incentive to keep traffic flowing in a timely, efficient manner.

Granted, they may want to keep us safe, but they do it in such an inefficient and archaic way that almost half of all flights are delayed due to air traffic controllers. You can be guaranteed that if the airlines were allowed to police the skies themselves, these delays would virtually disappear without any loss of safety. In fact, it would most likely be safer because they have true incentive to keep customer safe and happy. The incentive is repeat business.

So the next time you're in a congested airport, waiting for your bags from a flight that's already an hour late, think about how much better it would be if the entire airline industry were privatized. You won't find yourself angry with the airlines anymore, you'll be angry with the real culprits, the local and federal government.

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Douglas Carey is editor of The Burden. Send him MAIL.


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