Things to Come

While in this Atlantic piece via MSN Derek Thompson complains about the state of air travel:

Keyes: There’s a labor-supply issue, not just for airlines but also the TSA. If you live in Milwaukee and you’re looking for an entry-level job, you could become a transportation security officer for $19.41 an hour, or you could go on Amazon’s website and see that there’s a job in the area for $19.50. Would you rather help load and unload bags outside in the dead of winter in Milwaukee, or work in a climate-controlled environment in a warehouse for Amazon? That’s the trade-off a lot of folks are making. Labor shortages cause delays and cancellations. In normal times, airlines might have a reserve crew of pilots or flight attendants that they can call in. But now there is not the reserve in place to bridge the gap. The result is a huge swath of delays and cancellations.

Thompson: Laurie Garrow, a professor at Georgia Tech, directed me to FlightAware, a website that tracks airline-industry statistics. On any given day, it seems normal to have a cancellation rate of about 1 percent—or one cancellation for every 100 scheduled flights. Last Thursday, JetBlue canceled 14 percent of its flights. Last Thursday and Friday, American canceled 10 percent of its flights. On Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Delta canceled 8 percent of its flights. Meanwhile, Frontier and Spirit canceled just 1 percent of their flights in that time. Why are the major carriers having these major problems right now?

Keyes: Today’s airline that gloats about not having cancellations is tomorrow’s airline that’s experiencing a meltdown. I don’t want to pretend that Spirit and Frontier don’t experience meltdowns. They absolutely do. That said, a few factors can explain why we’re seeing higher rates of cancellations among legacy full-service airlines. First, many of the budget airlines like Spirit already trimmed their summer schedules when they realized they didn’t have enough pilots and crew to operate the schedule they had planned. The legacy full-service airlines can suffer sometimes from hubris.

Second, many of the legacy airlines have hubs in crowded corridors like New York, Chicago, and Boston, which can suffer from compounding cancellations when there’s a thunderstorm [which are more common in the summer]. Those cancellations beget more cancellations. A flight from JFK to Miami that gets canceled results in a further cancellation for that flight out of Miami.

One of the factors which he discreetly does not mention is that the pilots and other staff retiring are qualitatively different from those who are replacing them. Those retiring are largely Baby Boomers and those replacing them are preponderantly Millennials. For good or ill they are not interchangeable. Those two cohorts are drastically different not just in their levels of experience but in their attitudes towards work.

Over the weekend I was chatting with one of my relatives about retirements among physicians. The reality is that the level of dedication to their professions shown by Baby Boomer docs and Millennial docs is drastically different. Generally, Baby Boomer docs are working even when they’re not at work; not so Millennial docs. Note that I’m not saying that Baby Boomer docs are right and Millennial docs are wrong. I’m saying different and we’d better get used to it.

6 comments… add one
  • bob sykes Link

    When our old veterinarian retired, he sold the practice to a young woman. She does very good work, but she and her female colleagues shut down the large animal practice (horses, cows, pigs, llamas…) and now do only household pets.

    Large animal practice is hard, dangerous, physical work, but in rural communities like mine, it is a very large part of veterinary medicine.

    There is some evidence that younger physicians, especially women, prefer specialties like radiology or respiratory medicine that minimize patient contact.

  • steve Link

    Did they walk to school uphill both ways in the snow year round? So I am one of those docs who never turns off the phone (used to be beeper). I answer calls on vacation, check emails, etc. I am never really off. I think long days are normal. However, what I remember is that a sizable group of those old timers were also pretty lazy. They weren’t all workaholics. A lot of the worst workaholics were totally focused on money and they were the ones most likely to be doing the totally unnecessary heroic surgeries, GI procedures and hospital admissions/ICU admissions, all to make money.

    I will admit I hire almost exclusively from top tier programs so maybe i have a selective group, but a lot of my younger docs have an excellent work ethic. I can call them anytime and they are OK with it. That said, what I think I really see is that fewer of them are actually lazy but there are more of them than in the past who want to set work/life limits. The women want their full 3 months of FMLA after childbirth and the guys want a few weeks now. My generation was more likely to talk about family values. Their generation is more likely to practice it.

    I have decided every generation is different. I dont think the millennials are actually better or worse.

    You can look up specialties by gender. There are many fewer woes in pulmonary and radiology. You actually have a fair amount of pt contact in Pulmonary. They dominate in OB/GYN, geriatrics and pediatrics and are pretty good in family practice, areas where you have a lot of pt contact. Where you see fewer are in the procedural specialties exciting dermatology.


  • a lot of my younger docs have an excellent work ethic.

    If true that would be a relief.

    I don’t think the Millennials are better or worse either. I do think they have a different attitude towards their jobs.

  • Drew Link

    I agree that we need to be careful about painting with too broad a brush; people of all stripes and generations have a mix of traits. That said, I definitely think that as a general observation Millennials do not have the same priorities. My daughter observes it all the time. ‘Everyone gets a medal’ changes people.

    I think we err if we do not also acknowledge that the covid response blew an economic system to smithereens and we continue to suffer effects. Unintended (although predicted and observed by yours truly) consequences.

  • walt moffett Link

    There is a shift from those who say life is work and those who put life in one basket work in the other. Will be interesting to see how work fro home plays into this.

    Air travel woes are first world problem. Would much rather fret over the sad fact our foster care system produces so many future abusive parents, drug addicts and street people.

  • Andy Link

    I think a big part of the problem is the lack of stability in many airline jobs. I saw this from the outside mostly from military pilot friends who transitioned to airlines after leaving the military or were reservists who flew in their civilian jobs. The willingness of reservist pilots to volunteer for deployments was strongly correlated to the state of the airline industry, as was the job market for the full-time GS flying positions in reserve units.

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