ABC 'World News' Beats Up on Airline Industry
Show a profit after years of turmoil by trying to run a more efficient operation â€“ and get criticized for customer service.
â€śAnd new airline industry numbers out today show that while millions of passengers suffer through record delays, cancellations and lost baggage â€“ airline profits have been soaring,â€ť ABC â€śWorld Newsâ€ť anchor Charles Gibson said September 17. â€śAirlines enjoyed their best quarter in seven years between April and June, with profit margins of almost 9 percent. Can it be that what is bad for passengers is good for the airlines?â€ť
But Gibson left out a few details of what the airlines have gone through since 9/11. Four of the top 10 domestic carriers â€“ Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL), United Airlines (held by parent company UAL Corporation, NASDAQ:UAUA), US Airways (NYSE:LCC) and Northwest Airlines (NYSE:NWA) â€“ have operated under bankruptcy at some point since 9/11.
But higher oil prices havenâ€™t helped (from more than $20 a barrel in September 2001 to more than $80 a barrel). Airlines attempting to keep fares low while dealing with high fuel prices have been forced to make cuts elsewhere â€“ including labor cuts and some amenities.
Even stock pickers warn airline investments are a bad choice. â€ś[T]he bad news â€“ I donâ€™t want to own any airlines,â€ť said CNBCâ€™s Jim Cramer on the September 18 â€śMad Money.â€ť â€śBecause I am a believer oil is not done going up â€¦ We are concerned about all the oil rally and all the airlines fall.â€ť
So, despite all the vulnerabilities in the airline industry and a bearish outlook for airline stocks from at least one Wall Street analyst, ABC â€śWorld Newsâ€ť still depicted the airlines as a flourishing industry thatâ€™s just attempting to bilk passengers and employees.
â€śThe government numbers released today cover 21 carriers, the big airlines as well as major low-cost and regional airlines,â€ť ABC correspondent Lisa Stark said. â€śThey show that all those packed planes and crowded terminals are paying off in big profits. From April to June of this year, airlines turned a profit of $3 billion, the best return since before 9/11. And all of that is before the busy summer travel season. Analysts say airlines managed to make money even with sky-high fuel costs by dumping amenities and personnel and by forcing workers who remain to take billions in wage and benefit cuts.â€ť
At the peak of the turmoil for airline industry in 2003, Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute wrote that beleaguered American Airlines and United Airlines were losing $5 million a day thanks to paying out union-demanded wages and benefits.
â€śOne can only wonder whether the union bosses fighting United and American have lost all sense of economic reality,â€ť Moore wrote. â€śWith salaries that can exceed $100,000 per worker, if labor costs are not cut in the next several months, there will be no jobs at all for the union to fight for. Federal officials cited out-of-control salaries as a primary cause for turning down United's recent $1.5 billion bailout request.â€ť
Stark didnâ€™t include in her report that those moves were a necessity for some airlinesâ€™ survival, and she lumped the entire profits of 21 airlines into one grand total.
She was especially critical of US Airways, which didnâ€™t come out of bankruptcy until October 2005 after merging with America West Airlines and is now getting back on its feet. â€śUS Airways had the biggest profit margin this spring but also the worst on-time arrival for the 20 major carriers.â€ť
Airlines have been a target of various media reports during the peak travel season. In August, NBC â€śNightly Newsâ€ť blamed American Airlines for government air traffic control system shortfalls. On August 15, NBCâ€™s â€śTodayâ€ť anchor Meredith Vieira made an outrageous request of Northwest CEO Douglas Steenland â€“ asking him to guarantee that no flight would ever be cancelled again.