Offshoring Work: Why stop with maintenance?

Editor's Viewpoint

Offshoring Work

Why stop with maintenance?

By Joe Escobar

October 2004

Joe EscobarThe practice of offshoring or contracting portions of work to companies outside the United States is a trend that has been increasing in the past years. But offshoring is not a problem unique to the airline industry. In these times of ever-increasing pressure to cut costs, the option to outsource is luring many companies to send portions of their work overseas. But is there a price to be paid for this practice? Is there anything that can be done to reverse this trend?

I can't help but wonder if the airlines are missing out on some offshoring opportunities other than maintenance. In an effort to help save the airlines even more money, here are a few ideas on some further jobs that can be outsourced.

Let's start with ticket agents. Why have them at all? Why not just have foreign workers man computers while we check ourselves in. We are almost at that point anyway, with more and more automatic kiosks being installed at the airports.

And then there are the baggage handlers. The process can be streamlined with the use of automated systems using the latest in RFID technology to track and sort luggage. If a piece of your luggage is lost, you can sit in front of a computer terminal and see if the lost luggage clerk in India can locate it for you.

Flight attendants are next. Instead of outsourcing these jobs, we can eliminate them altogether. We can grab our own handful of peanuts and a dixie cup of water when boarding the airplane. Should an emergency happen, the undercover air marshall on board can step up to the plate and help guide us to safety.

In fact, why not send all upper management responsibilities offshore. After all, with all of the other jobs gone, there will not be any more people to supervise. Payroll, human resources, and all upper management positions can go to overseas employees. Think of the money that will be saved!

OK, maybe I get a little carried away with my sarcasm. But when or will this trend stop? Will it take a total collapse of the industry for the airlines to wake up? Will it mean losing thousands of aircraft mechanics to other industries? But where will displaced workers go? A few years ago, some of them might have gone to school to be computer programmers, but that is not the case today because more and more computer programming jobs are being sent offshore.

The airline industry is definitely in a crisis. As of press time, U.S. Airways has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in two years, and Alaska Airlines announced it is closing its maintenance base and will be outsourcing all its maintenance. Several other airlines including American and Delta are throwing around the bankruptcy word. It appears companies are using bankruptcy as a way to strongarm workers into concessions. It is a difficult choice for employees. Take the financial hit of concessions and hope it is the last round, or make a stand and hope you still have a job around the corner.

In the end, it's all about the money. Outsourcing is one way companies see to save costs. Unfortunately, it could easily end up costing them much more in the long run. Several recent accidents attributed to contract maintenance may be an indicator of that. Only time will tell whether this will affect safety. I just hope we don't realize it after it is too late.

Thanks for reading, and keep that feedback coming!