As airlines nickel and dime passengers for everything from additional leg room to blankets and pillows, in flight snacks to exorbitant fees for an extra piece of checked baggage continually raking in the profits, it was shocking to find out what they were doing to their commuter pilots. ABC news discovered that commuter pilots flying Florida to Newark were given meals, hotels and so forth after this common run, on the way home, on the way to their next flight assignment, but nothing for the night before they were scheduled to execute a commuter flight. Compounding the issue, with starting annual salaries of 15 to 17 thousand dollars, newer pilots cannot afford to rent an apartment in Florida, pay for a hotel. The result pilots forced to crash in airport lounges, something strictly forbidden by one airline, but happening all the same; pilots paying 25 dollars a night for a bunk bed in a flophouse violating every known building code. And like airport lounges, filled with the noise of people coming and going as they get off of and go to work leading to fractured sleep and exhausted pilots.
Then the next headlines the public hears about, making the front pages, blaring out of the TV screen of the nightly news is pilots making near misses, not responding to radio calls due to being distracted by personal computers, blackberries, some openly admitting to falling asleep with the plane on autopilot. Up until now the information and attitude given to news outlets has either been one of a need for more regulation on how many hours pilots can spend in the air without rest, regulation on how much rest they get. Enforcement of regulations mandating no PC’s, i-pods, blackberries or other personal devices make it into the cockpit, while doling out a heavy lecture on personal responsibility. Pointing to pilots ignoring regulations for money or simply because they can, calls for supervisors and overseers to pay more attention to insure people follow the rules; pictures painting pilots as incompetent, reckless, irresponsible, endangering passengers on a whim, turns out that might not be the case at all. Closely related to that, are the hot off the presses concerns of air traffic controllers falling asleep at the controls, one even taking a nap during his shift. The TSA adamant that they will not pay for controllers to take naps during their shift even if it would make the skies safer and it is the personal responsibility of the controller to come to work rested, even on night and graveyard shifts, known it interfere with natural sleep patterns and have a pronounced effect on health.
Critics of current airline policy, taken aback by the investigation’s findings, conveyed what they hoped the public would want by asking the question when do you want your pilot well rested, on the return trip when you have reached your destination or the night before they are scheduled to fly you and hundreds of others where you need to go? Added to the egregiousness goings on at too many of the nations airports are the staggering prices charged for everything you can think of, coupled with huge mergers billed as actions to save the airline industry from collapse, and they can’t afford to give their commuter pilots a hotel room with a comfortable bed, hot meal and greatly increased chance of an uninterrupted good night’s sleep? The American people aren’t buying it, nor should they. Fact is airlines don’t need to make billions of dollars to function and the certainly don’t need to do it with not so sophisticated price gouging of tickets, charging for everything on a plane that is not nailed down and some that are, only to add insult to injury by seemingly thumbing their nose at passenger safety. Neither do they have the right to blame pilots for their lack of personal responsibility when all the major airlines aren’t engaging in sound business responsibility ensuring all their employees in all facets of every job have the tools to do their job effectively to the best of their ability.
Pilots flying commuter flights should be guaranteed a medium stared, basic hotel room complete with room service or some kind of decent meal plan courtesy of their employer, pre-booked so that all the pilot has to do is show his I.D., be shown to his room order his meal, relax and focus on being well rested for his flight the next day, period. It is no different than providing gloves, safety goggles, uniforms, hard hats, or reimbursement to employees for their purchase of said items; no different than furnishing computers, IT support, desks chairs and other office essentials for workers answering phones, compiling memos drafting letters, updating company web pages across the nation. Sad fact is airlines could do this with the record billion dollar profits they report, at least giving passengers a sense they were being nickel-ed and dim-ed for a purpose. They could do it without the nickel and diming if they were, here’s a shock, willing to take a billion less in profits and invest that in the safety of the public, considering they are supposed to be providing a public service. Congress has gotten away with pay raises for decades on the premise they must maintain two residences one in Washington and one in their home state, usually housing their family.
Why shouldn’t it be the same for commuter pilots, especially when we’re talking about hotel rooms not apartments or homes, something that can be gotten in bulk at a corporate rate, discounts given to frequent visitors, recurring customers. Some might even attract added business when civic minded people hear what the hotel, hotel chain is doing to better the safety of the skies and decide it’s the place for them to stay too, to book their business convention, company retreat or accommodations for guests of a charity function. For the airlines nervous about costs there is little doubt you can find one willing to block out pay per view, anything beyond basic cable, in those designated rooms for pilots, can provide lists of approved room service items, block the ability to order their finest champagne, lobster tails and filet mignon. When odds are airlines aren’t going to be booking rooms in 5 star hotels with those kinds of options to begin with. This would also allow airlines to get something of a grip on their drunken pilot problem by barring the sale of alcohol to pilots renting those rooms, as it is common knowledge they are due in the air the next morning. What is wrong with providing these accommodations in an era where we give big oil subsidies, we give huge tax credits to corporations as recession relief, for green improvements or in the hope they will begin hiring again, but we do nothing to ensure they maximize their employees’ success on the job in the handling of thousands of lives a day on the planes they fly? What kind of sense does that make?
Similarly the TSA should have no problem paying for air traffic controllers to take a short nap on a long sift seeing as we pay fire fighters and paramedics to be in a fire house or like structure where they eat meals, relax and so forth when not out on a call, because their shifts are usually 24 hours. We have seen the devastating effects of med school and residency participants up 24, 48 even 72 hours straight working in ER’s and other busy parts of hospitals nationwide, mistakes, errors, death and carnage not necessary in the modern world. Think tanks have employing nap rooms, multi media rooms for years in order to stimulate the needed creativity in the workforce. Mexicans garnered a reputation as lazy because they nap in the hottest part of the day when the climate makes it too difficult to work productively or safely, what is missed from the American perspective is that many Mexicans work till 10:00 at night to make up for the 2-3 lost afternoon hours. Of course it should be no surprise really in a nation where every other business operating today is just one big OSHA violation, where we unlike every other Westernized nations do not offer maternity leave on a national scale, take the least amount of vacation compared to our European and even some of our Asian counterparts. With that said the TSA should legally require accommodations be made for commuter pilots to ensure a good nights rest and optimal flying capability, because they are the regulatory body there to protect the public safety
Unfortunately our addiction to the protestant work ethic may be proving dangerous when we aren’t willing to create an environment conducive to giving workers what they need to perform their job at maximum capability and function, when we aren’t willing to forgo our perceptions of hard work and laziness not in favor of worker safety but in favor of the public’s safety on a form of long distance public transportation. All this despite the proven benefits to power naps for increasing creativity, problem solving, focus; all this resistance to bettering the odds of a good night sleep for commuting pilots with again proven knowledge of what a lack of sleep can do. Sleepy driving is the same thing as drunk driving as far as your behavior, judgment and reaction time behind the wheel; it doesn’t take a genius or piles and piles of data to say that goes 10 as much times for being behind the controls of a giant plane. Yet corporate America’s other addiction, profit is allowed to get in the way.