Service Industry

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It should be pointed out that earnings vary greatly in this industry. For example, in 1995 the lowest ranking captain of Delta Airlines earned $132,000, compared to $20,000 at newcomer and rival ValuJet Airlines.

Senior captains who flew international routes could make $200,000, and most scheduled airline pilots averaged more than $100,000 annually. New airlines, many of which offer drastically reduced fares to attract business from established companies, obviously cannot pay as well as their large prosperous competitors. In order to hold down wage costs, several airlines have introduced two-tier wage scales. These provide a lower starting pay schedule for new employees than currently in effect for regular personnel. It may take a few years for new employees to catch up with the older established wage and salary rates.

Another development worth noting is the fact that many of the larger airlines have found it increasingly unprofitable to touch down at smaller cities on their routes. Therefore some carriers have set up divisions or separate companies to serve those stops that produce little traffic and feed the passengers into the larger cities that they serve. Here, too, you will find much lower pay scales than at the sponsoring airlines. However, it is always possible to work for the feeder airline and transfer to the higher paying parent company when openings become available.


Air transportation is an intensive service industry. Every company is selling fast, safe, comfortable, and attractive service and is trying to outdo its competitors. This calls for well-trained and experienced pilots to fly schedules safely and on time; efficient cabin attendants to give attentive service to all passengers; conscientious cleaners to leave a sparkling clean cabin for the next boarding passengers; terminal employees to handle passengers' questions and needs promptly and cheer-fully; mechanics to ensure that every aircraft is airworthy; and hundreds of other employees to perform their responsibilities to the best of their abilities. No one is on the payroll unless in some way his or her job is essential to the overall purpose of providing safe, swift, and frequent transportation at the least possible cost to the traveling public.

You will find in many departments that deal directly or indirectly with flight operations that most employees exhibit a special dedication to providing the best possible service. Those personnel who do not measure up to what is expected of them are not likely to stay for long. Too much depends on how each woman and man does her or his job, because what one person does interrelates in one way or another with the job duties of others. Few other industries expect such a high level of job performance as airlines because safety and service are paramount.


Almost every day newspapers carry stories of companies that are downsizing, a term that means discharging employees to cut costs and increase the bottom line or profits. Airlines are no exception, but most of those that have eliminated jobs found that they cut their workforce as far as they dared. The size of flight crews cannot be reduced; it is necessary to have enough ramp, reservations, and ticket agents to handle the current volume of passengers. Throughout the rest of the company, a minimum of workers is required to keep the company operating. However, when business picks up, hiring will start and the head count will grow to meet the demand of increased business.

Another dragon is lurking in the forest-mergers. In 1996 the scent of airline mergers was in the air because competition had become so intense it only made sense for certain airlines to consider combining and thus eliminate wasteful duplication of services. How many airlines does the public need between New York and Chicago, New York and California, or Chicago and Florida, for example? When telephones first appeared, Philadelphia soon had two systems, which meant businesses had to subscribe to both providers. How much wiser to have one service! It is possible that some day there will not be more than two airlines competing on heavily traveled routes.

Thus you could find yourself employed by an airline that is being taken over by another and your job is eliminated; that is, unless the merger agreement contains a job protection clause, which is not very likely. However, if there is no safety net, it will not be the end of the world, and doubtless opportunity will open up elsewhere.

We certainly hope that none of the above discourages you from wanting to learn more about this fascinating and ever-expanding business and the part you might play in its future development. Aviation is here to stay, just like the post office and city hall. It is essential to the nation's commerce and provides a vital service to the traveling and shipping public. Furthermore, it will constantly need new recruits like you.

Although much of the early aviation luster and excitement have worn off, working for an airline still commands respect, and often envy, too. In many companies employee benefits may include free transportation anywhere on the system, generous pensions, health care, paid vacations, and sick leave. In addition there is the satisfaction and pride of sharing a common goal of providing the public the best possible transportation service with positive promise of safety, reliability, and courtesy.

What do you think? It's your choice, but before you make your decision, read ahead and get the whole picture.

To better acquaint you with the industry, we shall begin with a capsule history of the business since the first air mail flight left Washington, DC during World War I.
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