Sitting at the terminal at Incheon International Airport after a quick trip to Seoul, Korea (well, not that quick if you include the flying time), I watched a new Airbus A-380 being towed to the gate. Soon thereafter catering trucks started toward the aircraft to prepare it for departure.
What struck me was that the trucks were being marshaled into position. Not one, but two human beings were actually making sure the catering truck got as close as it needed to the aircraft – but no closer. As you all know, this is not a common sight at U.S. airports these days as it needs to be.
For years now, the thinking all over the United States has been if a job could be done with less staff, then by all means eliminate the staff and save on salaries and benefits. As we all know, cut-throat competition in the airline business has driven these staffing cutbacks. Workers left to do the work on the ramp certainly bemoan the cutbacks, but so do supervisors who have more scheduling headaches and less flexibility in getting the job done.
But has eliminating all these workers really cost the industry more money in the end? Ground damage costs the airlines millions and millions of dollars every year. Some of the money, of course, is due to the very expensive nature of aircraft repairs. But the other costs are frequently not accounted for – the costs of schedule interruptions, delays, bringing in additional crews if the delay causes them to time out, lawyers and back office people to handle the insured and uninsured claims.