Cynthia E. Griffin- | 8/6/2009, 5 p.m.
A new report, released by three advocacy groups, calls for the airline industry to do a better job of providing quality jobs and customer service in exchange for tax-payer subsidies they receive.
In "Shortchanged: How Airlines Can Repay Taxpayers for Billions in Subsidies by Improving Jobs, Security and Services," released jointly by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) and Working Partnerships USA, found that despite receiving $8.5 billion in taxpayer assistance since 2001, including $487 million in state and local subsidies in California, airlines have been rated well below par on customer satisfaction by several national organizations.
According to the 2008 air Quality Ratings released by the Aviation Institute at the University of Nebraska, the airline received its lowest score since the rating system began nearly 20 years ago; And a 2008 J.D. Power and Associates study found that overall customer satisfaction with the airline industry has fallen to a three-year low primarily due to "people" factors such as staff performance and attitude.
Additionally, the report noted that the Federal Aviation Administration fined Southwest Airlines $10.2 million this year for flying planes which had missed maintenance inspections. American Airlines grounded about 300 planes because of maintenance concerns. The Southwest fine was actually a cumulative penalty, according to FAA officials.
The report is calling for airline subsidies to be tied to improved safety and job quality standards, and points out numerous problems with both.
In order to cut cost, airlines have contracted out functions including security and passenger services.
According to an analysis of wages from 5,000 contracted airline services workers at four major airports in the Bear Flag State, these workers earn less than needed to be self-sufficient, and for many, health care benefits are unavailable or unaffordable.
There are an estimated 18,000 of such contracted workers throughout California, and about 21 percent are African American or African, and another 65 percent are Hispanic.
Coupled with the low pay, the report also found that 91 percent of workers questioned at LAX had no formal training on how to evacuate a terminal and 88 percent received no formal training on procedures to follow in an emergency. Additionally, three quarters of those questioned had no formal training on identifying suspicious behavior.
Some of these workers are responsible for cleaning and guarding planes as well as searching them for suspicious items.
Others are responsible for helping elderly and disabled passengers, and even a significant percentage of these workers have not been properly trained on how to handle some of their job functions, noted the report's authors.
Among the new standards being sought are improving staffing, providing better equipment, and giving workers the proper training.
The Air Transport Association, the trade group representing domestic airlines, declined to comment.
However, Los Angeles airport officials did have this to say: "This is an issue between the airlines and their contracted employees who clean their aircraft. Nonetheless, in April 2008, Los Angeles World Airports adopted a policy to develop and implement new service standards for the more than 200 airline-contracted companies that provide services to the airlines, such as ground handling, aircraft servicing, equipment maintenance and a variety of other terminal passenger services. One of the goals of the policy is to institute contractor performance standards relating to employee relations, employee training and quality of service."
In addition to LAWA's actions, Councilmember Janice Hahn recently introduced a motion urging the City Attorney to recommend ways to implement a program that would reduce turnover among these service workers and improve service quality, safety and security at LAX. She specificially urged that options be considered for how to set higher wage and benefit standards and training requirements.