I was waiting for a flight in a small airport when an announcement was made that, because of weather, the 24-minute flight to Los Angeles would be delayed 90 minutes. This was such a small airport that the flight crew didn’t have their own special room. Rather, they sat in the same area as the passengers.
So I sidled up to the pilot and asked him about the situation. After all, the weather was perfectly clear where we were. He said that there is “weather” in LAX and that they are spacing out the landings. Since a large number of flights are coming from all over the world to the large airport, we were at a lower priority with our tiny plane. Since our landing had been delayed, there was no reason to take off because we’d just be circling until our landing time. So they delayed the take-off.
I said, “don’t these planes have all kinds of instruments that would allow them to land in ‘weather’?” He said, “yes, but they always err on the side of safety”.
And then he brought out the old trope: “Safety is our number one priority”.
Since we had some time to kill, I figured I’d engage the captain. I said, “Really? Number one?” He said “yup”. And then, I said, I don’t think so. “What?” “I don’t think your #1 priority is safety.” This made him get his nose out of his Facebook feed and engage with this heretic.
I said, “If safety really was your number one priority, you’d ground all your planes and people would just stay here in the terminal. After all, there is a very slight chance that the plane will crash and people will be hurt.”
Captain: “Well, we have to fly people, of course. But we strive for safety as our number one priority”. He still didn’t get it. Then I said, “You’re telling me that flying people from place to place is your number one priority, right?” “Well, we wouldn’t be in business if we didn’t do that”. I said, “You can’t have two number-one priorities, so is it safe to say that safety is your number two priority, behind flying people from place to place?”
He couldn’t argue with my unassailable logic, but I could see that he didn’t have the faculties to process what I was saying, so I dropped it.
But then I was thinking later that, as a corporation, the airline’s number one priority is maintaining and increasing shareholder value. Flying planes safely does this. But there are other things that could help the airline maintain value for its shareholders. Selling overpriced snacks on-board, for one thing.
So, really, increasing shareholder value is the number one priority. Flying people from place to place is probably the second priority. Safety, then, must be at least third on the list.
A truly honest ad campaign would say, “Fly United, where safety is our number three priority!”