Revealed: How to run an airline

Somebody has noticed that all is not well in the world of airlines, and has deduced that good management practises might help. They’ve written a book about it.

Is it just me, or is there is an insidious implication here that most airlines are badly managed?

The main theme, I gather from the blurb, is that adversarial relationships between employers and employees are bad, motivation and cooperation are good. Wow! what a surprise.

The book’s details are here:

Up in the Air:  How Airlines Can Improve Performance by Engaging their Employees by G. Bamber, J. Hoffer Gittell, T. Kochan & A. von Nordenflycht

Southwest, as ever, is the golden boy (CEO Gary Kelly below),



and Ryanair the rogue (tyrant boss Michael O’Leary below):



Michael O'Leary.JPG

But hey, wait a minute, don’t they both still make money?

I’m not persisting with sarcasm because it’s not appropriate. Industrial relations in most of the US carriers are a disaster, and elsewhere in the world they could be much better than they are.

Flight agrees it would not be difficult for airline management to get more from its employees than it does by ensuring they are fully engaged and totally motivated. It’s the theme on which we base our Crew Management Conference each year.

But there is something charmingly innocent about the obviousness of this book’s subject. Good management = good results. It’s so easy. Why don’t they do it?

Why does this innocent, optimistic belief that airlines could do better put me in mind of Robert Browning’s Pippa’s Song?

The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in his heaven–
All’s right with the world.

Optimism. It may be out of fashion just now, but it’s still available. Just do it.


One Response to Revealed: How to run an airline

  1. flipseal 11 February, 2009 at 1:15 pm #

    You are right to point out that both companies do make money… but just think how much more Mr O’Leary could be making if he wasn’t so abrasive?

    Southwest have been the one airline in the US to consistently perform over the past few years – in the most awful financial environment. They have consistently outperformed the other major US carriers, most of whom have been bolstered by US Goverment subsidies. Additionally, I believe ASW are regulars in the Fortune 100 – the highest performing companies on the US stock market. They have put their success down to good staff relations and a highly self-motivated workforce; perhaps this is why Stelios used ASW as a blueprint for easyJet?

    Although easyJet have grown long way from their initial concept, I doubt many of their crews would swap their orange for the blue of Ryanair!

    I believe that empowerment is not the main problem, it is more the fact that crews in many airlines feel that they are treated as ‘blue-collar workers’ as you so eloquently put it in a previous thread. They have no ‘relatedness’ with management nor do they feel any autonomy within their own sphere of influence because everything they do is so micro-managed and prescripted. As a result, many crews only turn up to work to pay off the mortgage or car-loan and they do the bare minmum before they go home, having added nothing to the company operation. If they felt more appreciated, engaged or, of course, empowered they would be more self-motivated as well as more productive, being more likely go that ‘extra mile’ for the airline and their passengers.

    Perhaps it is time to see Human Factors and CRM awareness and training mandated for all airline executives – as part of their Safety Management System. Not only would the airline be safer, it would also be more efficient.

    Let the executives ‘lead us into better profitablity not coerce us into mediocrity’