THE BLOG

Meet Two U.S. Workers Threatened by Gulf Airline Subsidies

06/18/2015 11:02 am ET | Updated Jun 17, 2016

As in other Washington arguments about law and policy, in the current fight about the right of the three heavily-subsidized Gulf mega-carriers to have unlimited access to the enormous U.S. market, what's often lost is an authentic connection to real Americans who are likely to be hurt by the continued diversion of traffic away from U.S. airlines (and their European partners). Fact is, every daily international round-trip flight foregone or lost by U.S. airlines results in a net loss of more than 800 U.S. jobs.

As an academic and former airline leader I respect prudent analysis based on data, but I also appreciate that behind these analyses are real people; I've never accepted the notion that humanizing the discussion is somehow invalid or "romantic." So let me tell you a little about two of my former colleagues at American Airlines. Trish and Debra stand to lose if Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways continue their artificial expansion into more and more markets in our country.

Trish is a flight attendant, and really good at her job. Her smile is genuine, her interest in helping every passenger she meets is instantly evident. Her consistent delivery of great onboard service is all the more remarkable when you learn about her career. Trish started flying with TWA more than 30 years ago, and lived through plenty of bumps there. A few months after American Airlines acquired TWA, Trish got laid off in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And it was a long furlough: eight years later, in 2010, she was recalled. In the interim, she found work, but nothing as satisfying as serving others. Was she bitter? No, not at all. The day I met her in 2012, she said she was delighted to be flying again, and looked forward to more years of service. I'd like to keep Trish flying.

Debra is a captain, and like Trish is highly accomplished. All over the world, for decades the pilot ranks were almost exclusively male, which required, like Trish, perseverance. Debra began flying in 1985 as a flight engineer on the Boeing 727 and became captain in 1992. For the past three years she's been a Boeing 757 and 767 captain, and when I last saw her, she told me she had just qualified to fly American's newest aircraft, the 787. When she's not flying, she's serves on the board of directors of American's credit union, a member-owned bank, but what really sets Debra apart is her more than two decades of volunteer service to Habitat for Humanity in Fort Worth, Texas. Since Debra began building in 1992, that branch has built more than 300 homes for low-income families in four counties. Although she still wields a hammer and saw, since 1997 she's served on the board of directors, helping set policy, organize fundraisers, and more. Her commitment to service in the cockpit and the community is exemplary, and I'd also like to keep Debra flying.

Trish and Debra are but two of thousands of committed employees in the U.S. airline industry, who, despite weathering enormous challenge and change in the past decades, remain committed to delivering safe, reliable, fairly priced air travel. They are not looking for special favors, nor any protection. They know how to compete. After all, the U.S. airline sector led the transition from a fossilized, often state-owned, industry toward a responsive, market-driven business. But Trish, Debra, and their co-workers should not have to go up against the treasuries of foreign governments and their wheelbarrows full of cash.