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What’s going on in airline boardrooms?

In a satirical, sometimes comedy-style way, Simon Marton is describing how he sees what’s really going on in airline boardrooms. His reflections are based on his personal impressions from his past as a long-term airline professional.

In this video of a Southwest Airlines board meeting, a flight attendant is adding a humorous light touch, performing a rapping presentation to the meeting. Video: YouTube.

About his story, Simon says,

If you carry on reading, you’ll be exposed to squirrels, a bit of legal knowledge, Tommy Lee, A.I. pirates, and maybe some airline-relevant opinions….

Thoughts of airline boardrooms

The airline world is going mad at this time, scurrying around reacting to the devastation that the virus is causing economically.  It seems that CEOs, directors, and influencers of operators across the globe are sitting in boardrooms coming up with solutions from solely an accountancy perspective.

We all know that what works on Excel or PowerPoint in a presentation, isn’t the same experience as being on the ramp at 05.00 in the pouring rain either performing a walk around an A320, loading an Embraer, or dispatching a full B757 charter flight to a sunnier climate.

The U.K. Companies Act of 2006

In considering the present times, I will use my out-of-industry perspective. It’s possibly as refreshing as a cold shower in the height of winter.

I studied business and company law as part of my lawyer training. It wasn’t my favorite subject. And, it was certainly reflected in my exam retake and bare-pass grade!

I’d have rather been chasing squirrels with a piece of drainpipe down the park. What little I recollect of company law, is that directors have a whole list of ascribed duties to act in the good of the company and its employees, aka ‘Director’s duties’. See the Companies Act 2006  (Law of England and Wales)

For example: Promote the success of the company.

The meaning of “the success of the company” in airline boardrooms

You must act in the way you consider, in good faith, would be most likely to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole.

Success will generally mean a long-term increase in value but fundamentally it is up to each director to decide, in good faith, whether it is appropriate for the company to take a particular course of action.

When considering what is most likely to promote the success of the company, the legislation states that a director must have regard to: (my emphasis)-

  • the likely consequences of any decision in the long term
  • the interests of the company’s employees
  • the desirability of the company maintaining a reputation for high standards of business conduct
  • the need to act fairly as between members of the company.

Somewhere in all of this, many basics upon which the airlines pride themselves on, have been discarded for both workers and even customers. What do I mean?

airline boardrooms, airliner
Airliner during approach for landing. Photo: Pexels.

The old-fashioned approach of airline boardrooms

Here we go: Brand Recognition, Customer Service, Reputation.  

Think back to the fifties and sixties which was called ‘the golden age’ (of flying, anyway). I know this is a whole other subject, but flying was very much the province of the rich, the famous, and the ones who got away with it.

There was a time in recent living memory that brand loyalty could be rewarded with upgrades, air miles, access to executive lounges, priority boarding, exclusive special offers and so on….

Yes, it could often bring out the worst in people, but it was a system that seemed to work fine and frequent fliers knew how to play the game as much as the airlines themselves. Even regional airlines prided themselves on the concept of ‘customer satisfaction’ and ‘full service’. No-frills still meant a cheap thrill.

Airline employees are your greatest assets

‘Your employees are your greatest assets.’

Ever heard that one. Hmmm. One would be forgiven for thinking that boards regard their brand new Dreamliners as their greatest fixed assets.

Somewhere along the way, maybe boards have lost touch with this idea that their people are the reason customers choose to fly with them?

Redeployment, or else….

Firing and rehiring, firing and redeployment, firing and then reconsidering, or just plain firing… these are decisions based on pure economics and not much else.

Delta, United, British Airways, Emirates, and so many others are entertaining this, yet it’s not very applaudable from the worker’s point of view.

The worker has no choice. But the airline is still in existence. Goes back to my Directors’ Duties section; a director must have regard to the interests of its employees.

Sadly, it’s like a pirate offering you the choice of taking on the whole of his Mötley Crüe unarmed or simply walking the plank.

Mötley Crüe: Somehow, I don’t think Tommy Lee would stand for it, do you?

An ice-cold move from an airline boardroom in Iceland

Icelandair B757. Photo: Wikimedia.

Take Icelandair and the intention to utilize its flight crowd to perform cabin crew duties, now reconsidered.

I understand completely that pilots are 200% capable of doing these tasks. I have taken it that they would be utilizing an all-pilot crew of say 9 on a 757. 7 pilots would be on duties, such as door manning and the safety demo, and so forth.

The setup makes a mockery of the whole facade of flying up until March 2020. For example, the cabin crew wasn’t really necessary… or were they?

It makes you think, doesn’t it? Icelandair was famous for its ’catch of the day’ in Business Class.

Maybe they tried to catch everyone out instead?

Next, will it be Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) taking the place of pilots?! Ok, an extreme. Only pilots would have the patience to wait in queues at busy airports and react to emergency situations without blowing a fuse

“That does not compute! That does not compute!”

Engine shut down complete

engine shutdown complete for airline employees
B757 engine. Photo: CaptainJetson.com.

Let’s be honest, these are almost impossible times for so many, let alone the airlines.

“We have to let you go…”

What a sentence. Loaded with rejection, ice-cold fact, and betrayal all in six words, whatever your line of work.

What is happening means that so many airline operators will have to go into administration and if times improve, possibly be resurrected by the same former directors in different guises?

I have seen this happen in the U.K. with charter airlines a few times in the past. The name might be changed or the image revamped, but it’s akin to a 737-800 being mothballed and then pulled back into service a couple of years later with a brand new logo.

Oh, the public? They’ll never know!

Airline boardroom decisions, decisions…

So, this is how I imagine a typical decision is made as ‘agenda item five’ for example…

Q. from CEO:

‘We need to save $22m this financial quarter by cutting 50% of our workforce. Can this be done, legally?’

Advisors: (conferring):

“Yes, possibly…”

Decision:

‘Implement immediately!”

That’s how I imagine it.

What is being revealed is the callous nature of the airline business which has traditionally been run on a knife-edge. I wouldn’t like to be a CEO. I also understand that leaders have to make difficult decisions.

Airline boardrooms are reserved for shareholders

The airline boards – being the steer- are interested in keeping afloat in any way possible for their shareholders. And their own futures.

Piracy!  Call me a Somalian, but there’s an idea…

Featured Image: ikonick.

You can contact Simon Marton here. Curious about his popular book? Get his “Journey of a Reluctant Air Stewardhere.

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