By Stanley Bing
March 11, 2008

Do you guys think I’m stupid? When I have problems with a company that has me at its mercy, in which I trust my life, do you suppose I don’t know who is really responsible? Like, if I walk the streets of a city and find them covered with garbage, do you think I blame the men whose responsibility it is to clean as hard as they can from day to night? Don’t you think I know there are too few of them to get the job done?

And if I fly an airplane that has been worked like an old donkey for the past 10 years, do you think I blame the pilots and mechanics for the fact that it throws a warning light every time it lands? What do you take me for? Seriously.

There were two kinds of comments to yesterday’s post that really set me off. The first came from the geniuses who told me I should walk from New York to California. I’m a cordial guy, so I’ll just say that I find those comments to be… what… insincere? I know what you’re saying. You’re telling me to, you know, have extremely personal relations with myself. Believe me, when I’m sitting on the floor of the airport sucking carpet waiting for the next time some guy thanks me for my patience, I wish I could. Because I can’t? I’ll just say… back atcha.

The second are those who think I’m blaming flight attendants, cleaning crews, pilots, gate agents, for the pain that the airlines inflict on we, the prisoners of Zenda. Believe me, I don’t. I know who is to blame. It starts with Ronald Reagan and we can go on from there. But no, I don’t think the working crew is responsible for anything except, at times, a really nasty attitude that you also see in my comments.

If I had to deal with the wretched refuse of our teeming shores every day, I’m not sure I would be any sunnier. I don’t know, however, that I would sport a pin that said “I don’t care what your name is either.” I’m sure the flight attendant had a good reason to wear it. But still.

A particularly hurtful but truthful comment came from Glenn in San Francisco. Here it is. I don’t want anybody to lose it in the shuffle, like a piece of luggage headed for Barbados that was intended for Peru.

As a 20 year flight attendant with AA who used to work flight 18 (the red eye from SFO to JFK) on a regular basis, I understand your continued frustration with American’s many shortcomings. In fact, according to DOT statistics, AA 18 arrives in New York on time (within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival time) less than 40% of the time — totally unacceptable. What your whining tirade fails to acknowledge, however, is that most of your complaints stem from AA cutting costs to stay afloat, without declaring bankruptcy, to satisfy the flying public’s desire for cheap(er) fares while costs beyond the airline’s control are at all-time highs. But what I find truly staggering is your lack of comprehension at what this cost cutting has done to the front line employees at AA. In addition to the mere pay cuts, vacation and sick time cuts, nasty changes in work rules and an overall demoralizing work environment, these cuts have impacted many employees in profound ways.

I do not expect you to feel sorry for me, but I spent my first ten years at AA working my ass off to save for my first house (I found a tear-down in my home town) and then next five years designing and building my new home (while still working my ass off to pay for it — no predatory/sub-prime loans for me – I had a 30 year fixed at 5.75%!). Three-quarters of the way through construction, we took our 35% plus pay cuts and while my payments would have been easily manageable prior to the “restructuring agreement” at AA, I now had to struggle to make the my payments. Ultimately, selling the home I spent 15 years of my life saving for and working on was the only option (additionally, due to the beginning of the real estate downturn, I didn’t even make a profit). I am now back to being a renter with an uncertain future. So please forgive me if I don’t exactly ooze with sympathy at how AA’s cost cutting has so negatively impacted your life — boo hoo.

The real kicker for me, though, is the irony that although the front line employees have suffered (as have our passengers), our senior management has been rewarded handsomely with bonuses in the hundreds of millions of dollars — a scenario that your employer, Fortune magazine, most certainly lauds. It is clear from the last decade or more that big business is primarily about massive personal wealth for it’s “corporate kings.” They don’t care about you – as customer, and they don’t care about me – as employee. They have enormous egos to feed and Hummers to fill up and that’s all that really matters to them. You should really have a better understanding of that.

I do, I hope. Anyhow, Glenn is pretty eloquent if I do not.

Here’s what I think: we all work for organizations. Our organizations work within a system. The system is bigger than we are, but it doesn’t absolve us from personal responsibility. That’s why I love people like Bobbi in Dallas, who made American Airlines (AMR) look so good in spite of all the indignities to which she may have been subjected by her situation, whatever that might be.

And that’s why I don’t like the gate agent in San Francisco, the guy who didn’t allow the pregnant woman, toting a stroller and a tiny baby in a Snuggly, to pre-board one night last spring. Sure, he had his reasons. We each have our reasons. We all live within the belly of our own particular beast. How human we are within that confine is up to each of us.

And, of course, how much any of us might want to do, or is willing to do, to change the system.  I’m open to any suggestion. As long as I don’t have to walk.

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