The Wall Street Journal has several gifted writers. Dan Neil is their automotive editor, and he is unusually literate, as are all the WSJ subject editors. After all, cars and airplanes are not merely utilitarian assemblies of nuts and bolts, and Dan’s uncanny ability is sensing and interpreting the emotional responses our machines evoke because of their human creators.
Dan recently excoriated a generally famous Detroit carmaker because they designed, built, and sold a machine devoid of love. He pointed at several examples where the bean-counters prevailed in “good enough” choices instead of reaching for the top as the designers preferred. We used to call people like Henry Ford and the late Lee Iacocca “car guys” because they loved making an appealing product that served a function with style and grace. Harley Earl’s designs were all about love.
Would you agree with me if I said this lovelessness is one of the reasons we find ourselves with a pilot shortage and airline travel as pleasant as root canals? Where’s the love at any of our air carriers, including the one whose stock symbol is ironically LUV? Herb is gone now as are Bob Six of Continental and C.R. Smith of American Airlines, the airline guys, and in place of their love and passion, we find the accounting department and legions of faceless bean counters, even in top management. You’ll notice I don’t comingle management for leadership in that sentence.
Last June, 41 fifth-graders from Tulsa along with their chaperones were stranded in Oklahoma City when American Airlines canceled their flight, without any alternatives. The kids wouldn’t make their class trip until two resourceful Delta Airlines agents saw an opportunity to save the day. And save it they did; Delta dispatched an aircraft and flew the students to their destination.
Those 41 little beans didn’t amount to a hill of beans to the proverbial counters, but love, reason, compassion, and opportunity aren’t on corporate balance sheets. It also showed that one airline’s employees had no faith in their leadership to even ask for help, while the employees at another carrier had confidence in their company. Guess how many now call Delta Airlines their favorite after this incident? I’m certainly proud of Delta and shame on you AA. What would C.R. have done?????
Might we find ourselves with a pilot shortage because of the insidious bean counter within ourselves? How many times have we heard that old excuse I can’t fly, it’s too expensive?” Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure may have subtle bean counter allusions when he said, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”
If you think flying is expensive, try having kids. We shouldn’t let price cause us to lose sight of the cost to ourselves by denying something bigger within us. Money makes airplanes fly, but we’d never leave the ground without love and faith. I cannot see the lift out there on those wings, but it’s there, and I love putting it to work. If you’ve got a hankering to have, hot dough tossed at you, jump in an airplane and fly to Lambert’s in Sikeston, Missouri and enjoy some country fried food and throwed rolls. With an airplane it’s possible to lunch in Sikeston and sleep in your own bed tonight. Don’t you just love it?