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From Land to Sky: Unraveling the Transit Problems Plaguing Our Airlines

So, I’ve been traveling a lot these past few weeks. I recently got back from DC, I was flying JetBlue.

Now, I’ve talked about some of the issues both JetBlue and American Airlines have a couple of times, but they are not alone in this. 

I’m going to target all airlines. I’ve seen a lot of unbelievable things the last two and a half years and I’m f!cking pissed off about where our public transit systems and airlines are these days. 

The United States is one of the richest countries in the world. We have a ton of resources (even though we’re not nearly as good as we think we are). There is absolutely no reason that we should have even half the amount of delays we have. Not to mention the aging equipment and the terrible experience that we have in getting people from one place to another safely and effectively. 

Here’s where these airline problems are reminding me of public transit.

I mean, I’m acutely aware of what’s going on with the MBTA because of my history and contacts there. There is an amazing amount of technical debt in our public transit in the United States and North America in general. My friends in Canada tell me that there are definitely issues there, too. Not surprising.

Infrastructure is crumbling in a lot of places (and in the United States especially) because of nearly 30 years of neglect. It’s a multifactorial problem that we’re seeing most acutely in the MBTA. That lack of infrastructure is why we have the slowdowns that we have on the trains. 

It all comes down to a startling lack of leadership and proactivity in terms of getting money and ensuring general upkeep. I have traveled all over in the last four years, and I look at United States airlines in terms of the following:

  • quality of equipment
  • service
  • the systems that they’re using to keep you up to date

It is clear that our airline systems and equipment are not up to par with many other countries.

I’ve been on Lufthansa a couple of times. It’s night and day how nice those airplanes are and how good the service is compared to JetBlue, American Airlines, or United. Delta, in my opinion, seems to be one of the better airlines in the United States right now. But even they are still behind many of the other airlines I’ve been on. 

Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Royal Air Maroc, the largest Moroccan airline (and one that I’ve recently traveled on), are leaps and bounds ahead of JetBlue, American, United, you name it, in terms of systems, equipment, and service. I’m not alone in this opinion.

In my opinion, what has led to the degradation of the customer experience in the first place, is the following:

  • Lack of proactive funding for new equipment
  • Lack of regular renovation of in-flight accommodations
  • An overwhelming amount of technical debt and a lack of routine system and IT infrastructure upgrades
  • An overarching need to keep shareholders happy with high profit margins during the good years without reinvesting much of those profits into the bullets above

Other countries are doing a lot better and they’re not using aged mainframe systems to do their scheduling and service planning. They have integrated systems that allow them to talk to their customers. This lets them know about delays and other useful information in a more timely and informative way. The equipment is just newer and better. 

The United States, especially our corporations, is so focused on squeezing every last f!cking drop of money out of customers that they’re cutting corners and skimping on equipment, systems, and employees. It’s a problem that I see in both airlines and transit. 

There’s an awful lot of overlap between airlines and transit.

I’m talking in terms of how the work is created. How scheduling works. And how you inform the customer of delays. Also, a lot of the issues when it comes to worker pay, equipment, and maintenance are very, very similar. 

It’s just startling how little money is being put into the upkeep and modernization of equipment (and I include software systems in that) as well as keeping people’s salaries up to date and making sure that training is available for employees. Every corner that can be cut to squeeze a dollar out of the consumer has been cut over 30 years.  Where is the money going? Especially as consumers paying premium for even less services and comfort. And I don’t want to hear that the pandemic was so costly on the bottom line of these airlines that they are now trying to recoup for that loss. What were they doing with all of their revenue pre-pandemic?

And we are feeling it acutely to the point where this country feels like it’s behind an awful lot of the world in a way that it shouldn’t be. That’s unacceptable. 

I think the pandemic has also made a lot of us accept that things aren’t going to be perfect all the time. Honestly, a little bit of acceptance that things aren’t going to be perfect all time is all well and good. But, we shouldn’t set the bar so low that things will never be as good as they were before the pandemic (if not better). God knows they weren’t as good as they could have been even before the pandemic. 

So, I’m saying to you, public transit authorities and airlines of the United States, raise the goddamn bar.

The level of service, the equipment you’re using, how you’re treating your employees, the facilities, everything has to be a lot better. And I’m not willing to blame this on employees, because I see a lot of transit agencies and airlines saying, “We have tons of turnover, we have new employees, we can’t hire.” 

Well, go f!cking figure. You can’t hire people because who the hell wants to work for you? With the conditions you have, with the way you treat your employees, with the systems you give them? You’re giving your people subpar tools and not enough indicators of how their performance is to know that they’re doing a good job. 

And you’re putting them in front of very angry consumers. Consumers who are used to a certain level of service from other airlines and transit in other countries that you can’t provide. The frontline worker bears the brunt of that anger even though it’s not their fault. It’s the suits in the back office who decided they didn’t want to spend the f!cking money to make sure that everything’s working. 

Okay. So. Back to you, the leadership of these companies. You have a huge, huge problem with your public reputation. Reputational damage is starting to accumulate because of the amount of technical debt and infrastructure debt you’ve accumulated over the past 30 years. And you have that debt because you’ve been focused too much on profit and not enough on maintaining and expanding your capabilities so you can be assured of further profit in the future. 

Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul.

For the love of God, have a little bit of proactivity and a little bit of forward thinking. I think that’s one of the things that is truly lacking in these two areas and honestly a couple of other industries in the United States. 

When it comes to science or technological innovation, we have some great minds in this country. But, I’m sick of us collectively smelling our own farts and thinking that we’re the best at everything.

We’re not anymore, guys.

We’re not.

But, we can be — if anything, the pandemic showed us that we can do better when we put our minds to it. (We came up with vaccines very quickly).

We just need to collectively rally around more problems and we need to actually want to fix them.The solution is multifactorial, just like the problem. 

  1. The first thing we need to do is realize that we’re going to have to spend some money and take a close look at the cultures of our companies to ensure lasting success so that the money really goes the distance. 
  2. We need to make sure that things are maintained, that employees are treated well and given the right tools for their jobs. 
  3. We need to give the customer a product that is worthy of the country they’re living in. 

It’s time to f!cking fix it, airlines.

And we’d love to help. God knows StarSpring has seen enough inefficient things in our time to figure out how to fix a lot of those pieces. I’m speaking both culturally and technologically (and if you’ve been listening to anything I’ve been saying over the past few years, you know that the technology doesn’t matter if the culture sucks). 

Love, Tim