piece of paper was slipped under the
door of my apartment last week. My landlord was informing me that
the City of New York was considering reopening a garbage transfer
dock on the East River, directly across the street from where I
The flier urged me to attend a public hearing on the proposal,
and created a vivid image of the consequences of not stopping this
initiative: Garbage trucks waiting to unload, lined up along the
avenue for as far as the eye could see. Noise. Smells.
The property's management company was not relying on feelings of
goodwill to motivate tenants -- love for our landlord was not going
to move us to help him maintain his property value and ability to
charge us high rents. The landlord's message was finely tuned to
appeal to tenant self-interest and, judging from the sign-up sheet
posted in the lobby, he succeeded.
Which had me wondering: Why, in their time of desperate need,
aren't the airlines asking for help from their customers?
I have a lot to lose if a couple of major airlines go out of
business. I currently have a wide choice of carriers. I have
options for low, albeit restricted, fares that might rise if
there's less competition.
But above all else, I have frequent flyer miles that are worth
thousands of dollars.
I belong to every airline loyalty program. They know how to
contact me, yet I haven't received one letter, one e-mail, one
phone call asking me to assist them in lobbying Congress for
Until Wednesday of last week, the airlines had a laundry list of
requests for government aid in the event of war, including tax
holidays, access to strategic petroleum reserves and relief for the
cost of providing security at airports.
Then the Air Transport Association, the airlines' national trade
group, announced it was paring down its request to a simple $4
billion, the cost of providing security. And it's by no means
certain they'll receive that.
In past crises, the airlines have asked passengers for help.
This time, the only attempt that I'm aware of has come from
United's flight attendants, who hand out leaflets urging passengers
to, essentially, help them save their jobs.
I think there are two reasons why the airlines are reluctant to
enlist my support. First, they may have felt the ATA did such a
great job securing a bailout and loan guarantees after 9/11 that
they were confident they could do it on their own again. They may
simply be dipping into the reserve of arrogance they had collected
during the years leading up to 2001.
Or, on the flip side, they may have concluded that they had
created such a reserve of bad will that if they made a call to
action, no one would respond, and it would lead Congress to
conclude there was no support for assistance.
Though the two reasons may seem mutually exclusive -- arrogance
vs. insecurity -- I suspect it's a little of both. A feeling of
isolation can lead to arrogant behavior. The airlines have burnt so
many bridges that they're right to be concerned about the limits of
our sympathy. (And speaking of burnt bridges -- the airlines could,
once upon a time, have elicited the support of the people who hold
one-to-one relationships with 70% of the traveling public: travel
The airlines still could appeal to the self-interest of its
passengers and those in the industry to rally support for their $4
billion handout. No passenger wants to lose frequent flyer miles.
No business in the industry wants an air transport system in chaos.
And all of us feel sympathy for the thousands of airline employees
whose jobs are in jeopardy.
Garbage trucks across the street?
I can always move. But threaten my frequent flyer miles and
you've got my attention. Airlines, send me a flier.
Create for me a vivid image to replace the landscape of burnt
bridges you painted in the past.