Absurdly Driven usually looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Airlines have got their money. Well, our money that will be given to them, and perhaps some of it will be paid back.
The bailout of airlines is a controversial subject.
Why not, some say, let them work their way through bankruptcy, allow some investors and hedge funds to lose money, yet keep the employees paid?
But what will airlines really look like when customers emerge from the shelter of their homes? What sort of promises should they make? And which of those can they actually keep?
There'll be fewer routes and far fewer flights. Worse, United last week declared that, despite getting its bailout money, some employees will still lose their jobs.
Southwest Airlines, however, is taking a different approach and it's one that may show how planning -- and committing yourself to employees and customers -- is invaluable during a crisis.
The airline's CEO, Gary Kelly, spoke to his employees via video and made this courageous pronouncement:
We will not be downsizing the airline.
That's quite a bold statement under circumstances that are so uncertain. How can he possibly say that?
Kelly admitted he's preparing for a number of scenarios. However, he believes Southwest is oddly well-placed to avoid shrinkage. He said:
We need to be prepared for a very prolonged, sluggish travel environment. And that's where having plenty of cash, low debt, a low cost structure, a low-fare brand becomes so important.
This sounds like a very well-run business. Largely, it is. Some might wonder, however, why, if the airline has plenty of cash and little debt, it needs a bailout.
Kelly admitted the resistance to downsizing is somewhat predicated upon a relatively quick return to airline travel:
We don't want to furlough employees. We don't want to ground airplanes. We don't want to close cities.
Then the caveats emerged:
If this is a real recession and a bad recession, it could take four or five years [for passengers to return].
Soon, it was revealed that the company has turned to its flight attendants, pilots, mechanics, and other employees and asked for concessions.
The unions appeared reluctant, understandably fearing temporary concessions may become permanent.
Southwest has never laid off staff. It's never furloughed them either. Yes, in its history. This allows for a very different atmosphere among employees than at other airlines.
Kelly, a highly respected CEO, said the airline is going to do the best it can. However, if his four- or five-year scenario comes true, this may have implications for passengers -- and, of course, for employees.
What sort of economy will exist then? What sort of temerity will have enveloped humans? Will we have become entirely digital slaves? Will we shy away from travel -- especially business travel -- and tie ourselves to our homes and Zooms? Will we suddenly prefer to drive longer distances, to keep away from others?
If that's the case, the definition of downsizing may need a little adjustment. Or even a lot.
While Southwest is known for both its relaxed convenience and its customer relations, no business can indefinitely tolerate a lack of business. Somewhere, there will be pain. One potential advantage for Southwest, though, is that it doesn't much depend on international travel, which may be in for a very mercurial couple of years or more.
Clearly, Kelly's motivation was to reassure. It's understandable in a company that very much focuses on its people.
But, before we speak of not downsizing, let's wait a year.
This is all supposed to be unprecedented, isn't it?