Review: Attention All Passengers by William J McGee
Title: Attention All Passengers: The Airlines’ Dangerous Descent – And How to Reclaim Our Skies
Author: McGee, William J
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Business
Publisher / Year: Harper / 2012
Source: From the publisher for review.
Why I Read It: Good question… as a very frequent flier, I really should not have read it…
Date Read: 24/05/12
McGee, in this book, argues that the airlines are descending to dangerous lows in terms of service, quality, and safety. He outlines why he thinks this is the case, drawing on a long career in the airline industry followed by writing about the industry, and gives his solutions for how to improve all three and, as the title says, ‘reclaim our skies’. As someone who is usually away two weeks a month, I was interested to learn more about the industry – as someone who is away that often (I’ve flown 42 flights this year so far…) it probably would have been best not to learn more about the industry. That being said, since reading this book I’ve still continued travelling for work, so it hasn’t impacted my life, other than a slight stress increase!
Through the book, McGee discusses such topics as: customer service; the history of regulation and deregulation; price-fixing, codesharing, and ‘competition’; outsourcing, including of maintenance; and security. He truly covers the whole flying experience and all pieces involved, and has done a lot of research to do so. His research took him across the USA, and across the world, as he tried to see what was being done where. He talks to maintenance workers, whistleblowers, CEOs, and Senators, and covers all the airlines – major and regional (you’ll have to read the book to find out more!) and the ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of costs – because that really is the only way airlines compete these days.
Consider that the airlines pay very little in taxes, are a top twenty lobbying industry (in terms of dollars spent), that the CEOs make millions while the jobs are being cut, outsourced, and moved to part-time. While the airlines are losing billions and employees are losing their jobs, CEOs are still making millions, which doesn’t seem very logical. And maintenance outsourcing is leading to a higher amount of accidents – which are sometimes reported and sometimes not, given that it is mostly based on self-reporting and the outsourced work doesn’t need to be performed by certified mechanics. So yes, while the airline industry still provides by far the safest form of transportation there is, it is getting worse and, McGee argues, we need more and better accountability and safety checks.
For the most part, the book must be read to get the full impact, I can’t share everything he discusses. I will, though, share one tip. If you are travelling with a child, all parties agree that it is incredibly unsafe to fly with a lapchild… but no rule is in place to disallow it because airlines are concerned that families might decide to save their money and drive instead. So if you have a small child, please keep that in mind, and read this for more information.
It wasn’t a perfect book, but it was well-written and informative, and I certainly now want to learn more about Canadian airlines and will be more careful with the flights that I book (not that I have much choice, I’m always on the smaller regional planes!). I’ll leave you with McGee’s conclusion on what he sees as the real issues facing the industry, from page 307 in the advance review copy:
[...] the pervasive effects of corporate influence throughout all three branches of government; political gridlock; the ever-widening economic gap between corporate CEOs and rank-and-file workers; federal regulators failing to regulate the industries they are sworn to oversee; the wholesale outsourcing of decent jobs, particularly outside the United States; and a wilful ignorance of how industry is affecting the environment.
Highly recommended to anyone interested in big business, government, the airline industry, or transportation.