Fix the Airlines Instead of Bailing Out Wall Street

05/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Don McNay Financial Expert and Best Selling Author

Coming in from London
Flying in a big airliner
Chickens flying everywhere around the plane
could we ever feel much finer?

-Arlo Guthrie

There was a time in my life when I loved to fly. I didn't care where I was going. I just liked being on a plane.

Not now.

People have been trying to pinpoint events that lead to the economic crisis. Some look to President Clinton allowing banks and insurance companies to merge in 1999. Others go back to the deregulation frenzy of the Reagan administration.

I take it back even further, to when President Carter deregulated the airline industry. That was followed by President Reagan firing the air traffic controllers.

Air transportation has been on a slippery slope since then.

During the regulated era pricing and routes were regulated so airlines competed with amenities and customer service.

You don't see that anymore.

I used to be a frequent business flyer. I'm not now. It is just too painful.

In recent years, I went to Bermuda while my clothes went to Atlanta. I spent four hours in Baltimore proving I wasn't a terrorist. My crime was buying one way tickets on different airlines. My last flight was crammed in a middle seat from Seattle to Louisville. The one before that stranded me in Memphis and said it would be at least three more days.

I like Elvis but not that much. I found a rental car and drove home.

It seems like everyone is having the same horrible experiences.

The world of flying changed after September 11, 2001. Safety became more important than passenger comfort. Many airlines marched into bankruptcy.

Airlines started cutting back on "extras". First they took the lettuce off the sandwich. Then they stopped giving you a sandwich at all. Recently they decided that luggage was "extra" too.

There has to be a way to make the airlines safe without putting the passengers through hell.

In his recent book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, Tom Friedman described his experience of flying from a dated and overcrowded airport in New York to an ultramodern airport in Singapore.

He said, "We felt like we had just flown from The Flintstones to The Jetsons."

I wouldn't use cartoons to describe my recent flying experiences. My descriptive language turns up in the comedy of Lenny Bruce, Chris Rock and Richard Pryor.

I liked being served Omaha steaks and California wines, (in coach) but I can live without them.

I can't live without the ability to get from there from here. I live outside of Lexington, Kentucky. I can easily drive to Cincinnati, Louisville and Knoxville and sometimes flown from Indianapolis and Dayton.

Even with several airports, I can't do what I used to do: Get to a meeting and know I will get back.

I used to schedule an out of town trip then meetings the next day. Now I can't. I am not sure if I will get back or if I will get home exhausted and stressed.

When I started my business in 1982, I treated Mark McCormick's What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School as my business bible.

McCormick said the best way to do business was to get in front of a client, face to face. He advised to do whatever it took but see them in person.

I did that for years. I was an elite flyer on three different airlines.

I could fly from Cincinnati to Los Angeles, meet a client for lunch and be home that night.

I flew to Washington every couple of weeks. Now I drive every couple of months.

Even with email, phones, and video, it is not the same thing.

The same inability to see clients has hurt thousands of business people.

And the economy is suffering for it.

The government is committed to spending trillions of dollars. They need to ask what an investment in the future is and what is bailing out mistakes of the past.

Spending money on the airline system is a little of both.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the founder of McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Kentucky. He is the author of Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You When The Lottery. You can write to Don at or read his award winning, syndicated column at McNay is Treasurer for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table.