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Up In the Air

If the letter, below, in USA Today is any evidence, this retired pilot for Continental Airlines has a better intuitive grasp of the economic way of thinking than does, alas, the typical PhD economist.  Cap’t. Green correctly predicts that the so-called “Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights” will raise the cost of flying – both directly in the form of higher air fares and indirectly in the form of fewer flights and more flight cancellations and delays.

Such legislation is a classic example of politicians’ heavy-handedness.  Ignorant of the countless details that must be mastered to make the airline industry work even reasonably well – but intoxicated with crude fantasies of how it should work – politicians castrate pilots, gate agents, executives who specialize in making flight schedules, and myriad other airline specialists of their abilities to respond effectively to the vast array of ever-changing facts that must be reckoned with if each flight is to have a respectable chance of being safe and on-time.

As Thomas Sowell writes on page 17 of his latest book, Intellectuals and Society, “Why the transfer of decisions from those with personal experience and a stake in the outcome to those with neither can be expected to lead to better decisions is a question seldom asked, much less answered.”


James C. Green, retired captain, Continental Airlines – Midway, Utah

Two federal bills that are about to take effect clearly show how lawmakers’ meddling in areas they don’t understand can have adverse consequences.

This month, the Senate unanimously passed a proposal to increase the number of flight hours a commercial co-pilot must have. This might seem like a good thing, but in reality there will not be enough qualified pilots who possess the experience to meet the demand of regional airlines. And as a result, there will be a huge deficiency of short-haul flights throughout the country. With fewer flights, the cost of flying will increase dramatically, and more people will be driving, which is more dangerous.

So much for the intent of improving safety.

Then, after April 29, when the “Passenger Bill of Rights” takes effect, there will be many, many cancellations of flights by the major airlines in order to avoid possible extended ground delays. This misguided law will fine airlines up to $27,500 per passenger if the aircraft is delayed on the ground for more than three hours without allowing the passengers to deplane. Rather than take a chance on this huge and outrageous penalty, pilots will taxi back to the gate, even if takeoff is only moments away, rather than be punished so severely.

The irony in this is that delays are almost always caused by weather and an antiquated air-traffic control system run by the government. If Congress would stick to what it ought to and stay out of these kinds of airline issues, our country would be much better off.