Travelers Concerned About Industry, But Still Flying With PM-Airline Mess
DALLAS (AP) _ Turmoil within the airline industry has some passengers a little nervous, but they’re still flying and generally want the government to stay out of the business.
Random interviews with travelers by AP reporters at big airports nationwide suggested the underlying demand for airline seats remains strong as the country heads into the traditional Memorial Day summer kickoff.
At the same time, there’s a high level of awareness by the traveling public on issues confronting the airline industry. There’s a bitter Eastern Airlines strike, Northwest Airlines is on the auction block and aging aircraft is a frequent topic.
Flying ″is probably less safe because some of the jets are a lot older,″ said Mike Osborne, a St. Louis businessman passing through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport this week. ″Structurally they’re beginning to have problems, I guess.″
Many carriers are rushing to buy airplanes to expand and replace their fleets. This past Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board reported an ″industry-wide deficiency″ in the inspection of the popular but aging Boeing 737 airplanes.
″Everybody’s on strike,″ Richard Siska, a St. Louis businessman said in Chicago. ″You’ve got management doing work that they’re not qualified to do, and it’s the passengers who take the risks.″
Despite the concerns, ″flying is still safer than driving,″ said Jason Manning, a jewelry salesman traveling through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
″It’s safer than driving a car,″ said Jeff Reistroffer, 32, a Fairbanks, Alaska, resident arriving at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday.
″If you’re going down the freeway, two cars at 50 mph, one driver sneezes, it’s all over. A pilot can sneeze and he can go all over the place - there’s a lot of leeway.″
Employees, meanwhile, have mixed feelings about the changes in their industry.
″I haven’t noticed any difference in the attitude here at Northwest,″ said one pilot in Atlanta. ″My job has not changed one iota.″
But a Northwest flight attendant in Chicago said, ″I feel secure that Northwest wants to stay in the airline business, but buyout possibilities make me a little nervous.″
An American flight attendant in Chicago said, ″I make less money because of deregulation. The girls who have been flying for more than 10 or 15 years are making 30 to 40 (thousand dollars a year), and those who’ve been flying for 10 years or less only make 10 to 20 (thousand).″
American’s two-tier wage scale, where it takes 12 years to reach top pay, is a frequent target of union criticism and was one of the important issues in recently concluded contract negotiations.
A businessman at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport agreed the government shouldn’t reassert its regulatory authority over the airline business, which it largely relinquished 10 years ago.
″Prices are going up, there’s no question. A lot of it is to cover their operating expenses,″ he said. ″But because of deregulation many airlines are marking down their prices to compete. Passenger traffic is up, but I think they are concentrating on improving their aircraft and upgrading maintenance.″
″The airlines are doing just fine now and competition will establish the price,″ he said.
Cynthia Kensy, an Air Force airplane mechanic travel through Chicago, was one of the few who said more regulation is needed.
″It’s letting people get a little loose with what they do,″ Ms. Kensy said. ″Safety, service, they’re all sliding a little bit here and there.″
The changes in the industry are having some effect on the airports, depending on their connections with specific airlines.
Atlanta, for example, is a major hub for Eastern and, ″at times it certainly has been more hectic due to the Eastern strike,″ said a Delta employee.
But at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the main effect of the Eastern strike is expected to be a boost in public relations value.
DFW spokesman Joe Dealey said the reduction in Eastern’s operations in Atlanta should allow the Texas airport to leapfrog over Hartsfield to become the world’s second or third busiest airport.
DFW last year ranked third in operations behind O’Hare and Hartsfield and fourth in passengers behind those and Los Angeles.
End adv PMs Friday, May 26