Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Be nice to people on welfare—they may be flying you to Buffalo."

That quote comes from a book by Michael Moore, Stupid White Men, which was published 2001, right at the dawn of the "New American Century", and can be found at A Tiny Revolution, in a post dealing with the ridiculously low wages paid to commercial airline pilots. This deserves to be read:

From the Washington Post today:

Manassas-based Colgan Air today struggled to defend itself as details emerged about the low pay of its pilots, their long commutes and the need of some to hold second jobs to make ends meet.

Colgan faced a number of questions from the National Transportation Safety Board about its pilots in the second day of public hearings that cover the crash of Continental Connections Flight 3047 that killed 50 people near Buffalo on Feb. 12 this year. The NTSB is in its second day of public hearings into the crash, which was the deadliest U.S. transportation accident in seven years.

Under questioning from the board, Mary Finnigan, Colgan's vice president for administration, reported that Rebecca Shaw, co-pilot of the crash plane, drew an annual salary of $16,200 a year. The board also said that Shaw once held a second job in a coffee shop while working as a pilot for the airline in Norfolk, Va.

From the Michael Moore book Stupid White Men:

"Believe it," [the American Eagle pilot] assured me. "One of our pilots last month went down to the welfare office and applied for food stamps. No kidding. With four kids, at his level of pay as a pilot, he was legally eligible for assistance. The front office at American found out about this and sent out a memo that said no pilot was to apply for food stamps or welfare—even if they were eligible for it!"...

First-year rookies in many cases were living below the poverty level. I don't know about you, but I want the people taking me with them to defy nature's most powerful force—gravity—to be happy, content, confident and well paid...

I do not want the minds of the pilots or the attendants to be occupied with how they're going to get the heat and lights turned back on once they get home tonight ...

Be nice to people on welfare—they may be flying you to Buffalo.

Just a thought: although I'm not quite yet ready to change my mind about the safety of airline flights, it does strike me that airlines are playing with fire, and have been for quite some time. Credit the demand by this generation's Social Darwinists, the neoliberals, that wages for workers (but not executives) go down, unions get destroyed, and so on and you end up with scenarios where someone who is supposed to transport me safely at altitudes of 30,000 feet is potentially earning less than half my salary, is moonlighting, and hence is very stressed out (try paying the bills on $16K for a year - even if you're single and live like a monk or nun, it can be damned near impossible) and too tired to concentrate. As morbid as this may sound, I'm at a point where next air flight I'll tell my wife that if something were to happen like my plane crashes, don't blame the pilot - blame the system.

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