Airlines received $50 billion in pandemic aid — but still screwing Americans

If you’ve flown recently, or attempted it, it might have gone something like this: Your 1pm flight became a 5pm flight became a midnight flight before being unceremoniously cancelled. No explanation is given. The next few flights are already booked but they have a middle slot with two stopovers departing next week if that still works for you.

We have endured so much from airlines. Eating on planes is now limited to crackers and a shot glass of soda. We pay exorbitant amounts for checked baggage. Only some people are allowed to take hand luggage on the plane. We pay to choose our seat. Incidentally, a seat designed for someone who is 4ft 8in tall and weighs 95lbs. They have tortured us in various ways.

We took care of it because they got us from point A to point B quickly and safely. Sometimes it was even cheap. We accepted the continual downgrading of service because they had something we wanted that only they could deliver. But the airlines are not keeping their end of the bargain. We miss meetings, events, family time and more because they just can’t pull themselves together.

According to FlightAware, a website that tracks flight cancellations and delays, there were 1,629 delays and 631 cancellations “within, into, or out of the United States” as of Sunday. This was only around noon. Cancellations and delays become more likely as the day progresses.

Why are there these frequent delays? Airlines say post-pandemic demand is high. That’s probably true, but people are excitedly booking seats on flights that supposedly exist, only to not have them when it’s time to travel. That’s not the fault of the demand.

Des Moines International Airport
Airlines continued to require employees to get vaccinated in order to be able to work.
AP/Charlie Neibergall

Airlines have a plethora of other reasons. They accuse “Federal Aviation Administration staff shortages.” They point the finger at “weather” or “unplanned employee absences”.

Then there is the pilot shortage. Why should there be a shortage of pilots, the average pilot screams into space. In one of the silliest moves ever, pilots have been encouraged to retire early to avoid being laid off during the pandemic.

But this is exactly where the poor performance of airlines becomes a bigger deal than just a company not providing quality service to the customer. Over the past two years, airlines have received more than $50 billion in pandemic aid. Our money. Congress has tried demanding answers about how that money was spent, but like all their other suckers, they couldn’t come up with any straight answers.

This money was intended to preserve jobs and save an industry. Pilots, pretty important to the whole flying thing, should never have been encouraged to quit their jobs. Instead, the industry is in turmoil, employees have been laid off anyway and the money is gone.

Some airlines required their employees to be vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine well into 2022, despite the job crisis. Any employee with a vaccination exemption was put on paid leave in what seemed like a bad use of taxpayers’ money until the airlines finally relented. Everyone without exception was fired. It made no sense, and we’re all paying for it now.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently had his own flight canceled and was forced to drive from Washington to New York. Now he says his department can force airlines to hire more staff. That might work for some roles, but pilots aren’t transport secretaries. They must actually have experience and know what they are doing. Buttigieg had no transportation experience before being chosen for this role. A pilot can’t fake it the same way until he’s done it.

Perhaps the real lesson here is that even in times of crisis, the federal government should stop handing out free cash with no strings attached. We hope that every elected official whose flight is delayed two hours, six hours, or eventually canceled will remember that they gave this industry the money to treat us this way. And then we hope they don’t do it again.

Twitter: @Karol