The Corner

Politics & Policy

Taxpayers Should Demand Their Airline Bailout Money Back

American Airlines has had to cancel hundreds of flights over the weekend. The mass cancelation will continue over the next few weeks. One of the main reason: a lack of pilots.

You would think that $79 billion of bailout money to airlines — a good amount of it going to American Airlines — to not furlough its workers and stay ready to serve its customers once the pandemic was over would be enough.

Nope, because as we always knew, bailouts aren’t really for workers, and they are certainly not for customers who happened to be taxpayers, too. As we have known all along, they are mostly for the benefit of shareholders and creditors. In this case, that meant doing the bare minimum to keep its airline ready for when passengers return. While American Airlines didn’t have to use its own money to keep its pilots on the payroll, many of them were sent home during the pandemic. However, the airlines didn’t bother to keep its pilots “ready-to-fly” (as I assume it was expected to, since we were all collectively paying for these pilots to be active and qualified to fly).

Now that travel is ticking up, the airline is calling back the pilots, but they aren’t certified to fly. As a result, the airline had to cancel hundreds of flights. My colleague Gary Leff, writing at View From the Wing, broke the mass cancelation story over the weekend. He has this to say about the situation:

American announced two months ago that they’d need to hire pilots this fall but didn’t prioritize re-trainings. And while you might argue ‘they needed to save money’ even though the federal government gave them over $10 billion (annualized cost per job saved for the second and third payroll bailouts was over $1 million), they were still converting these Boeing 737s to cram in more seats throughout the pandemic (Project Oasis). Keeping pilots current so they wouldn’t have to cancel flights might have been given . . . higher priority.

I would like my money back, and so would Leff:

The primary argument for $79 billion in federal airline subsidies over the past 15 months was that this would keep airlines ‘ready’ for when passengers returned. American Airlines took its share of the money but did not keep its pilots current. And now that passengers are back, the airline is cancelling flights as a result. I want my money back.

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