Flying on the Cheap Takes a Toll, So Does Cheap Gubmint
The parallel was so obvious I almost didn't write about it, sure that everyone else would pounce. When only one letter to the editor of the NYTimes finally got around to it today, I decided I'd weigh in.
I speak of Jet Blue and its low-budget, stripped down, blues.
As everyone knows, a recent patch of bad weather stranded hundreds of Jet Blue passengers on the tarmac at JFK airport for six hours or longer, and severely inconvenienced thousands more with delays and cancellations. Read on
The problem, it seems, stems from running a company on the cheap. When the weather is smooth, so is the flying, and everyone is happy -- rock bottom fares and little TV's in the back of the seats -- why pay more? Everyone loves low taxes until they tire of the pot holes --literal and metaphorical.
But when the weather turns dark, so do people's moods, and with good reason. Jet Blue, it turns out, was completely overwhelmed by the unexpected.
Now, any one living on a wafer-thin budget, paycheck to paycheck with no reserves, knows this experience first hand. The crisis caused by a broken furnace or an ailing child, something that for many of us is simply an inconvenience, can spiral into missed work, unpaid bills, job loss and the end of the line.
It always astonishes me that bidness people (and some of my best friends are in bidness, but they are of the liberal persuasion) carp about government spending, yet they know full well that you get what you pay for, thus they fly first class, pay more than most people earn in a year for their children's pre-school education, choose cars with buttery leather seats that go faster than you can legally go, and scarf down $36 steaks with a $250 bottle of Cab.
Yet when it comes to any part of the commonweal -- education and healthcare for starters, with trickle down to local governments --police and probation officers, libraries and transportation -- they want to tighten the old belt. And they congratulate themselves for being frugal, thrifty "Scots". Well, it's hooey. It's not about thrift, it's about a double standard of living, one for "them" and one for everyone else -- a group that is growing in a most un-American way. McClatchy News Service's analysis of the 2005 census figures found that the percentage of Americans living in "severe" poverty has hit a 32-year high.
But as Jet Blue illustrated in one long weekend of stalled traffic and irate customers, if you haven't invested in the infrastructure and management of the company, you're up the creek without the proverbial paddle when the overflowing toilet hits the -- propellor.
Funny, it's the same message most of us got from Hurricane Katrina.
As an admirably contrite Jet Blue CEO David G. Neeleman said, "We had so many people who wanted to help who weren't trained to help. We had an emergency control center full of people who didn't know what to do." Sound FEMA-iliar?
George Bush showed us what you get when disaster strikes and you've been running government on the cheap and appointing untrained cronies to key positions. At least no one died as a result of Jet Blue's flinty operations.
But CEO Neeleman, calling himself "humiliated and mortified" by the breakdown of his company, promised to pay penalties to stranded customers, and admitted that the company's low-cost operating structure may have been a contributing factor to the total melt down of systems.
Later in the week he took out a full page ad in the NYTimes apologizing for his errors, and announced changes in company policy and promised a passengers' "bill of rights." Okay, remains to be seen if it will happen.
But what a contrast to our nation's CEO, the first president with an MBA. Think Katrina, think bill of rights, think humility, think apology. Most of all, think of those stranded in Iraq. Not only is Bush leaving them there longer, he wants to short change 'em on benefits when, and if, they come home.
"This is going to be a different company because of this," Mr. Neeleman has said. "it's going to be expensive. But what's more important is to win back people's confidence."
Make changes? Win back people's confidence? Expensive? What a concept.