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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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The Surly Bonds of Fate

When did the government become responsible for reimbursing private for-profit businesses for lost profits lost due to acts of nature? That question has been dogging me since airlines began demanding reimbursements for lost revenue in the wake of the recent Icelandic-inspired travel fiasco across Europe.

I had no idea that the government of England, for example, owed Ryanair a single pound because something happened beyond anyone's control. Is that really capitalism?

Yes, I understand the airlines' frustration. I'd even agree with them that European Union requirements they provide food and accommodations to stranded passengers are unfair. Just because you have a ticket to get on an airplane doesn't necessarily mean you have lost all ability to care for your own basic needs. That's a legislative problem though, that can and probably should be rectified using legislative means.

The thrust of the complaints seems to be that European governments were overly cautious in closing down airspace for six days.

Name me one person on the planet, who doesn't currently occupy the CEO office of a major airline, who would rather have a government be overly risky with something like air safety than overly cautious.

A typical 747 carries between 400 to over 500 people on one flight. The largest passenger plane in the world, the Airbus A380, can carry up to 853 people. Smaller jets such as the 737-800 can seat close to 200 people on a flight. Imagine the outcry if England, or Germany, or France, had authorized flights to resume two days after the volcano erupted, and even one plane crashed.

You would figure that given the airline industry's extensive experience suffering catastrophic financial losses (while somehow still remaining in business and paying top executives a very handsome salary, truly one of the great economic mysteries in the history of mankind), another $2 billion or so in estimated losses would simply be reason for a new round of Chapter 11 filings. You'd be wrong.

The airlines want money, lots of it. Government money to be exact. The governments of Europe don't owe it to them, and I hope they don't pay.

It was a natural disaster (if you can even call it that; I don't know if anyone even died). Thems the breaks.

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