Nobody likes travel delays, and airlines—by virtue of the weather and mechanical breakdowns, to name just two—tend to have a lot of them. Enter labor unions, who are looking to hammer the hyper-competitive, low-profit industry (one estimate from 2011 found that the airline industry had lost a collective $60 billion since 1978) with more demands for unsustainable wages and stagnant work rules. The result for consumers? Your next airline delay might just carry the union label.
In Europe, your cancellation might already have the union label prominently displayed. This week, the pilots’ unions for Lufthansa and Air France have called strikes, leading Air France to ground roughly half of its short-haul flights. The Lufthansa pilots have an interesting grievance: The union is annoyed that the German carrier plans to expand lower-cost overseas services. Like their brothers in the taxicab unions blocking Uber-style hire car services and the American Federation of Teachers blocking charter schools, the German pilots union puts its own interests before the interests of consumers.
Meanwhile at home, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) is trumpeting the recent unionization of customer service representatives at the newly merged American Airlines and U.S. Airways. Their jobs are in decline anyway, as anyone who has been to an airport recently would know: The check-in kiosk has in many cases supplanted the check-in attendant.
Presumably the employees hope CWA will stop the movement to automation and save their jobs. Don’t count on it. The structural factors that are forcing airlines to control costs aren’t going away. It’s more likely that union wage scales, union-led strikes, and union work rules may send AA-U.S. Airways the way of fellow unionized airlines Pan Am and Eastern Air Lines—into liquidation. And that could ruin more than a few people’s travel plans.