Resistance to Change in the Airline Industry

Friday, March 21st, 2008

Steven Pearlstein’s “Sacred Cow in the Cockpit” raises some interesting questions about resistance to change in his Washington Post column. Just why do pilot’s ignore the writing on the wall that suggests that the airline industry is hemorrhaging money, and the old way of doing business doesn’t cut it?. (That’s my phrase, not his.) Pearlstein said, “But there is no getting around the fact that the airlines also suffer from unions that, 30 years on, still haven’t accepted the reality of a deregulated marketplace. . .” He is especially harsh when it comes to seniority. It causes airlines to work in ways that are “irrational or unproductive.”

As readers of this blog know, I think there are three reasons why people resist new ideas: Level 1: they don’t get it, Level 2: they don’t like it (fear), or Level 3: they don’t trust the other party. I suspect that the deadlock over seniority is a combination of Level 2 (emotions) and Level 3 (lack of trust), and has little to do with Level 1 (understanding.) As long as mediators keep coming up with sensible solutions, they will fail. Sensible is the realm of Level 1. The Pilots’ Union and the airlines need to dig deeper, and find out what emotion and trust issues are at play.

In my experience, it isn’t one side that is guilty of resisting, we need to look at the relationships. Resistance resides in the dance between the players. What’s going on in the relationship between pilots and their union, between pilots of various airlines, and between pilots and the airlines themselves.

I’m not suggesting there is an easy answer, but I do believe that digging deep to find out what’s going on at all three levels is critical if pilots, the union, and the airlines ever hope to find common ground.

Steven Pearlstein’s article is at:

My article on resistance to change can be accessed at:

Rick Maurer