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Wrong way to save an airline



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Hoo-boy, the startling revelation that American Airlines has had some of its passenger seats come loose during flights gives new meaning to the phrase "flying by the seat of your pants."

But that's what the top bosses of this once-proud airline have been doing for months as they continue to downsize its skilled workforce, outsource essential jobs, and generally demoralize the people who make an airline successful. Having plunged the corporation into bankruptcy last year, the geniuses in American's executive suite decided that the way to fix the airline's financial mess and restore public confidence in its service was to force more cuts on the employees who provide the services.

Thus, in February, it was decreed that maintenance crews in Fort Worth and Tulsa would be slashed and more than a third of their jobs would be outsourced. Tom Horton, American's genius-in-chief, blithely declared that airplanes "can be maintained in Asia or Latin America — anywhere." True — but not necessarily well-maintained.

In September, when the seats started coming loose, the brass callously drove company morale further down by implying that American's maintenance crews, who are members of the Transport Workers Union, were the culprits.

But TWU fired right back, pointing out that maintenance of two lines of 757s, including seats, had been outsourced to a non-union, low-wage corporation where employees don't get expert union training or regular on-site reviews by federal safety inspectors.

As a frequent flier on American, I have a personal interest in this fight. I want CEO Horton to come to his senses and recognize that he can't climb out of bankruptcy by stepping on the line employees he has to count on to make the flying experience pleasant and safe.

Cut the corporate hierarchy — not the people we customers actually trust to deliver a good product.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit


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