Are CEOs Hurting Employees with Air Travel Policies?

A technology analyst who was stranded in last week’s airport snaggle says we need to look at business travel rules.


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Last week we had a significant problem with American Airlines, one of the largest carriers in the world. Around 350,000 of us were stranded as the airline worked around the clock to correct what most seemed to think was an issue that had little or no impact with safety. Over the last several years we have watched the FAA institute policy after policy – making it harder and more inconvenient to fly – to address post 9/11 concerns, most of which seemed to have little to do with 9/11.

In addition, during this time, many companies abolished their business class travel policies for transcontinental travel even though a life threatening condition called Economy Class Syndrome appeared to be causing more and more concern. Given that many of the firms who abolished business class travel put their top executives in executive jets this would seem foolish on two fronts:

One, it would tend to make the executives appear even more elitist (and can work against green efforts) and alienate their employees, making it harder to manage; and two, it would seem to open the firm to very painful and public litigation should a employee die and their family focus their grief, and focus their litigation, on the company and not the carrier. To add insult to injury many of these CEOs actually use these corporate jets like personal possessions and loan them to their kids to use.

I don’t want to think how much fun a prosecuting attorney would have with that one, were one of these firms on the receiving end of a wrongful death action.

Torturing Employees to Save Money

I don’t get this. I just don’t. If it is important enough to fund corporate jets so top executives can arrive to their destinations on-time and safe, why isn’t it important enough for other members of the firm?

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I can certainly understand limiting travel to save money, but given the reality that the time spent in the air is largely unproductive in coach class seating. Sitting in these seats, which often have worn out padding and don’t even recline enough so you can sleep, seems way too similar to what is used in certain interrogation techniques (some even call it ”torture”). No wonder children often scream when placed in these things; they aren’t that much different than the “sitting in the corner” form of punishment even for them.

Now for 3 or even 6 hours, I think anyone, other than children, can probably tolerate these things but, seriously, for 8, 10, and even 12 hours? If you forced an employee to sit in a space for 8 hours that was as tightly confined as the middle seat in a typical coach configuration I think you’d be hit by serious employee abuse and OSHA problems.

I mean, you can certainly save a lot of money by cutting cubicle size down to 4’ x 4’ size right? Why not 3’ X 3’?

Now let’s add the Russian Roulette chance that you could miss a connection, have serious mechanical problems (and I’ve had 4 incidences myself this year, one requiring fire trucks on landing), or even premature death due to a blood clot or catastrophic problem, and you have a reason to revisit your travel policy.

Policies Making the Problem Worse

So what happens when companies stop paying for Business Class? Well, carriers wanting to make money make these classes smaller and that means employees who used to be able to upgrade can’t because there is no room available.

Competition, then, is increasingly on price only because firms don’t factor in employee comfort. So on bread and butter business routes you get smaller and smaller business class sections and tighter and tighter coach class seating with planes that are often over-booked and under maintained.

I can imagine an event where a plane goes down with a lot of employees from one company on it and it instigates a legendary class action, holding the company as well as the airline accountable for failing to adequately protect these employees. Because there is nothing in the policy for selecting either the carrier or the class of service that has any focus on employee safety or wellbeing.

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Tags: security, search, economy, carriers, policy

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