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If you had to travel this past holiday season, you probably are still reeling from the experience. Southwest Airlines alone canceled nearly 17,000 domestic flights. Airports were full of passenger lines, crying babies, angry adults and overwhelmed airline personnel. It was nobody’s “happy place.” 

While airlines pointed the finger at extreme weather conditions, a look at where the profits go reveals a more transparent situation. In short, the heavy hand of capitalism was at work.

The U.S. airline industry has taken a page out of the Too Big to Fail book used by corporations like Goldman Sachs and General Motors. After the banking crisis of 2008 and subsequent government bailouts, corporations like GS enjoyed megaprofits. They rewarded their shareholders with record bonuses. Taxpayers got the bill.

The justification from these bloodsuckers is that they must save jobs, and that has been a winning message for decades. So, labor unions and consumers tighten their collective belts to make concessions to benefit the company. 

In the case of the airlines, the return appreciation has been keeping employee wages flat. Passengers are crowded into seats adjusted for maximum capacity with a 4-ounce bag of nuts to pacify them. We are nickel-and-dimed with extra charges that used be included in the ticket price, like baggage.

Somewhere along the line, Southwest Airlines was dubbed the working people’s airlines - as if it were markedly different from the rest. Its projected loss due to the holiday cancellations and mandatory reimbursements to passengers will climb to about three quarters of a billion dollars. About $400 million of that is the revenue loss from cancellations. The remaining is reimbursements of actual passenger losses and incentives to smooth consumers’ ruffled feathers.

During the pandemic, the industry received over $50 billion to avoid bankruptcy because people were staying at home. The airlines got multiple payouts from the same public trough as we did - the American Rescue Plan Act. Most of us were so focused on the crumbs we would receive from ARPA, we didn’t see what the phat cats were getting out of the deal.

The losses of the airlines were temporary. They recovered, and their stocks soared nearly 200 percent. Executives received stocks and bonuses to add to their need-to-be criminal compensation packages. For example, Delta’s CEO had a total compensation package of $12.4 million in 2021.

The public now knows more about the failure of Southwest (and probably other airlines) to address its outdated infrastructure. I heard a rep from the pilots’ association on NPR expose the systems failure as a chronic problem that has been known for years. This is clearly going to be a case of begging for what you need, and expect the public coffers to be raided to update the system. Taxpayers will be told, jobs must be saved and safety must be a priority.

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We have yet to test it, but I’m wondering what would happen if we say no! to the next request for a bailout. Over the last twenty years, we’ve clearly seen who the beneficiaries are. Salaries and profits are a matter of public record, as are workers’ wages. Would the economy totally collapse if we force these companies and their greedy investors to figure it out - and do so without our money. It’s risky on our part. But keep in mind, these folks have no problem with risking our jobs, our safety and our future. I say it’s time to shift the risks.

Black Commentator