There probably are lessons in management techniques to be learned from the debacle at Eastern Air Lines. But the real lessons would come not from an airline that is failing but from one that works, America West being a smoothly functioning example of one that hums.
Frank Lorenzo, president of Texas Air Corp., which owns Eastern and Continental Airline is at war with his employees in a style that has the mark of strike, bankruptcy and fire sale written all over it.
Eastern's troubles have even prompted calls for reforms in the reforms of regulation of the airlines, as though that had helped cause the problem. But America West is a child of those same deregulation reforms, and it is doing very nicely, thank you, with a very different management style.
It helps that America West started at Phoenix, a growing metropolitan area but with a sort of air-service vacuum that was easy to fill. The rest it has done on its own.
Eastern's pilots make less than the industry average. The pilots at American West, and all other employees, make more. All own stock in the company, a condition of employment. Sick leave policy is flexible enough to meet the needs of the ill employee rather than the needs of some rule.
Management doctrine seems to start with a broad understanding that flying machines are not flown by machines--or maintained, repaired, scheduled or booked by machines. "Management'sbasic premise is that employees are individuals," a company spokesman said, "and that kind and thoughtful treatment of employees will lead to kind and thoughtful treatment of our passengers."
As one way of demonstrating that, America West operates a child-care center around the clock and seven days a week. Among other ways that help relieve the stress of parenthood is that aircrews, taking off on runs that will keep them away from home for two or three days,leave knowing that their children will be well cared for.
There is not enough covered parking space at America West's corporate headquarters, so every payday there is a lottery to see who gets the available space. As one official noted, he has seen Chairman Edward R. Beauvais' car in the outdoor lot for about three weeks, which means that he did not draw a winning number the last time.
America West started up in 1983 with three second-hand airplanes. It now flies 70 planes on routes as far east as New York City and Baltimore-Washington and has 42 more planes on order. Because it is so young, the planes in its fleet have the lowest average age in the industry. It makes money. It ranks first among the nation's airlines in leaving and arriving on schedule.
It is doing something right. And treating people with respect, whether they are paying customers or employees, has something to do with it. That's a lesson worth learning and remembering.