The CEO of an imaginary airline wants to keep operating costs down in his company. His airline is one of the larger airlines in the country and he has been continually searching for new methods to reduce expenditures and stay in the good graces of those who elected him as CEO. His goal is to never raise the prices of the airline tickets so that he can keep his customers – and his stockholders – happy, remain as CEO and perhaps, one day even further advance his career.

Not being a pilot himself, he sends out one of his assistants to take a plane trip on his airline to investigate ways to cut corners. His assistant, also not a pilot, settles into one of the passenger seats on one of the comapny’s 747’s.

The plane takes off without incident and in a few minutes, is flying at 30,000 feet. At this point, the pilot comes on the PA system and announces:

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. Right now we are cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet and our estimated flight time to our destination is 2 hours and 20 minutes. Enjoy your flight.”

Right away after hearing this, the assistant checks his notes to learn exactly the pay-grade of the particular employee who made that brief announcement and is shocked to see a six-figure salary. As an executive of the airline, the efficiency expert/assistant is allowed into the cockpit to further investigate just what is going on.

Once up front, the eager assistant asks the pilot how he knows that they are flying at 30,000 feet and how he knows what their ETA could possibly be. The Captain points to a computer display that has a digital readout of those figures along with other such information. The assistant, thinking he may be on to some sort of waste here asks more questions of the pilot and discovers that the pilot actually uses checklists for quite a few situations including take-offs and landings. Appalled at the apparent simplicity of this job, the assistant takes notes. He may have singlehandedly blown the lid off of employees who portray themselves as some sort of professional. He even saw a button that said “autopilot” on it! What are we paying these people for?

Later, once back safely on the ground and in his office, the assistant realizes the folly of paying someone a six figure salary when all they do is make announcements over PA systems and read things off of cue cards.

“We could hire new people to read off these checklists over a microphone and pay them a lot less than we pay our pilots,” the assistant excitedly reports to the CEO. (The assistant himself has career aspirations of his own as well.)

“Yes, the greedy pilots are so over-paid due to the last contract that we need to find cheaper employees that are not subject to the same contract,” the CEO adds. (Despite signing the labor contract between The Company and The Union that clearly states the exact figures, the CEO is known for feigning surprise and indignation in public at the mention of pilot’s salaries.)

The new plan is announced without any of the actual pilots who perform the day-to-day work being consulted. One pilot points out that the law requires that a pilot must have a license in order to actually fly the airplane but concedes that no such license is required to make announcements over the plane’s PA.

“You just want to selfishly protect your job and keep your current work schedule! Besides, you would still work for the airline, it would just be in a different position,” comes the answer from on-high to a different and un-asked question .

Another pilot points out that it takes quite a large amount of training, experience, dedication and practice to reach the level of proficiency needed to fly a 747 and safely transport nearly 500 passengers. This training is beyond the normal training of a typical airline employee.

“How hard is it to talk on a PA and read cue cards?” comes the response, missing the larger picture of much of the other duties and responsibilities of an airline captain.

One senior employee wonders if this new plan will somehow affect the airline’s accreditation. The airline had recently obtained the prestige of being one of the few airlines around that met the stringent requirements of a recognized accreditation bureau. Employees were proud, initially, to have their company attain such status but their view began to evolve. There were some who realized that one big problem with accreditation is that it is difficult to keep while still cutting corners. More and more it seemed, employees saw things being done simply to meet the letter of some accreditation standard, if not the spirit.

A seasoned veteran opined that he thought perhaps this plan was ill-conceived and, although it may be a well-intentioned means to cutting costs, it was based on a misunderstanding of his actual role at the airline.

“Listen mister, if you guys don’t like it, I’m sure that we can find someone to replace you,” a mid-level manager retorted.

Puzzled by this response, the seasoned veteran responded,”But you don’t have to do that – you already have a full team of dedicated professionals who have each served the company well for many years.”

The company releases a video on YouTube that shows a pilot talking on a PA system while reading off of a checklist. The purpose of the video is apparently to 1)suggest that a pilot’s main job is making announcements over PA systems while reading cue cards and 2)ridicule the actual role of the pilot and try to show how costly and wasteful the position is — (which management themselves had created earlier for some forgotten reason)– and 3)either intentionally or inadvertantly leave out the numerous other duties and responsibilite of the pilot in order to try and sell the idea to the public about how smart and easy it would be to hire a cheaper alternative.

Supporters of the plan argued at length with opponents of the plan while often missing the main issue and instead focused on various trivial side issues. The main issue comes down to just how a new employee can be hired for cheaper yet have the same training and experience to provide the same safety and service as the higher-priced employee that is being replaced. The answer is that it is not possible. You either have cheaper and lesser trained employees or you hire trained and experienced employees – but then they deserve to be paid for their knowledge and abilities and you are right back to where you started.

Or you simply circumvent the labor contract that you had agreed to and hire someone outside the union that is not subject to the same salary and benifits that you had promised to pay…

The plan went into effect and the planes, in fact, did not start falling out of the sky after all. The experienced crews that survived the price-cut plan “made it work” like they always did and kept things as safe as they could — The CEO did promise safety, after all. And the time passed along.

But the reason that the airline ultimately failed was that the public does not always simply want the cheapest possible thing. People are willing to pay a little more for a particular level of service. They want and deserve the best deal for their money, but paying customers will point out that a certain level of quality cannot be sacrificed just to save money. Many a company has found that as you gradually decrease quality of services just to stay cheap, your customers lose satisfaction and ultimately leave. Many have learned that you don’t just try and be the cheapest by cutting corners and by driving motivated employees into retirement. You succed when you try to give the best service at the best value -and don’t forget about your experienced workforce that got you where you are today.

Everybody wants a good deal, but many people are afraid of the cheapy “fly-by-night” discount airlines.


Those that knew the day-to-day operations of the airline the best – the ones that were doing it every day – simply wondered if perhaps decisions had been made without all of the important information being known by the decision makers. The airline continued down that path that many big failed companies had taken — having big important people think that they knew what went on in their organization while ignoring those who really did.