The human face of ‘capacity reductions’

If ever there was a phrase that was so unthinkingly adopted by the news media, it’s the one the airline industry came up with to dehumanize layoffs and firings: “capacity reductions.”

Northwest, as I posted last night, sent a news release and employee memo out yesterday to describe their latest capacity reductions, using terms such as “employee impacts” and “headcount reductions.”

Here’s a translation: People are going to lose their jobs.

How does this feel to the people who make up the headcounts? Not so good, as you might expect. Take Sam, for example, who blogs — a little anonymously — at Blogging at FL250. In the past few months, we’ve enjoyed his accounts of rising through the ranks at one of Northwest’s regional partners to become a captain.

Today, he provides an excellent dissertation on how capacity reductions translate into the nuts and bolts of employment:

With recent developments in the industry a downgrade and subsequent furlough is looking more and more likely. It’d only take a few hundred furloughs (flowdowns) from RedCo to kick me off the NewCo list, and that’s on the small end of expected furloughs at many companies. The political pressure to avoid cuts until the merger is approved may be my saving grace in the short term.

He also provides some real insight into the young vs. old pilot tension at airlines, now that pilots have been allowed to fly until they’re 65.

The irony, of course, is that those enjoying an extra five years at the top of the pay scale are those least likely to be impacted by capacity cuts. A guy on the top 5% of the list isn’t going to be displaced, much less downgraded or furloughed. I hope the guys staying past 60 enjoy their extra five years. Their newfound freedom to “fly ’till they die” is going to set back a lot of junior guys’ careers at least five years.

Another pilot’s blog — Around the Pattern — takes issue with the assertion that older pilots are getting fat and happy at the expense of the kids:

Why would somebody who has been flying for an airline for 25 years want to continue to work for that airline past the age of 60? Pilots at three of the legacy carriers have lost their pensions and are now relying on the PBGC formula for receiving a percentage of their once-promised retirement (a formula, by the way, that is based upon working until age 65). Pilots at another legacy carrier had their retirement benefits frozen about 4 years ago at whatever they were entitled to receive effective that date. I have met only one pilot so far who meets that “upper 5%” criteria who is still flying, though I have been told there are about a half dozen others at my airline. They are hanging on to see if there will be a buy out that might get them a little closer to the pension they had been promised for so many years.

Regardless of whether they’re young or old, it’s clear that pilots for the nation’s airlines — along with employees of many industries today — are not in their happy place.

  • He also provides some real insight into the young vs. old pilot tension at airlines, now that pilots have been allowed to fly until they’re 65.

    There are always winners and losers when government takes an active role in managing an industry.

    Both sides of the change in mandatory retirement age have valid points, of course, and you could argue all day as to whether the end user (the passenger) benefits from the forced retirement of an experienced pilot at an age these days that is still arguably considered ‘young’. These are pilots who by law are required to undergo an extensive Class I FAA physical every six months, so we’re not talking about infirm pilots hiding medical conditions to stay in the Captain’s seat well passed when they should have retired.

    It’s a tough question, but the latent libertarian in me leans towards government staying out of the retirement age issue completely in any and all industries since I don’t believe the public good is served by their involvement.

    If it is appropriate for the gov’t to meddle with retirement age in the alleged interest of the public well-being and force airline pilots to retire at a given age because of the responsibilities of their job, wouldn’t the same apply in the medical industry, for example?