Property: A Right, Not a "Privilege"

Friday, March 07, 2008

Yesterday, I encountered a news report which described (even as it participated in) an attack against capitalism which stands out for its mendacity even by today's shabby standards of objectivity. Its misleading title was, "Plane flies five passengers from US to London."

While the headline is factually true, it is misleading in the sense that jet flights carrying few (or no) passengers are not newsworthy events. Come to think of it, it also isn't newsworthy that left-wing advocacy groups scream bloody murder over the fact that fuel has gotten burned somewhere in the world. Or that such groups use any and all such occasions to call for government control of the actions of any fuel owners who might actually wish to use their fuel.

But the headline is just the beginning. The UK Telegraph continues its collaboration with Friends of the Earth beyond the headline and throughout the story by leading with the amount of fuel used and the accusations of waste, followed shortly by a slapdash summary of the circumstances of the flight:

The latest "eco- scandal" flight took place on February 9 after American was forced to cancel one of its four daily services from Chicago to London.

While it was able to find places for nearly all the passengers on the fully-booked flight, five still had to be accommodated. Those who did fly were upgraded to the business class cabin.
Does this not sound like American made a half-hearted effort to cancel a flight, only to decide to go ahead anyway? It did to me when I first skimmed through the article.

A more complete explanation occurs later on in the article, but only after an environmental activist is quoted complaining and the "carbon footprint" of each passenger is reported. (The Telegraph did at least report that American took a loss on the flight.) CNN, although also biased, did at least explain this in a little more detail, so I'll quote them:
Because of a mechanical malfunction, AA flight 90 was 14 hours late leaving Chicago's O'Hare airport on February 8. Though most passengers made other arrangements to London, five lucky passengers unable to be rebooked made the 6,400 kilometer (4,000 mile) flight in business class, with two crew members per passenger.

American Airlines said it chose to continue with the flight because of the full load of passengers waiting at London's Heathrow airport to return to the United States.

"With such a small passenger load we did consider whether we could cancel the flight and re-accommodate the five remaining passengers on other flights," says American Airlines' European spokesperson Anneliese Morris.

"However, this would have left a plane load of west-bound passengers stranded in London Heathrow who were due to fly to the U.S. on the same aircraft." [bold added, links dropped]
In other words, American needed a plane in London and somehow had to get it there in time to carry a full load of passengers home. So they made the best of a bad situation and boarded five passengers on the otherwise empty jet they decided to ferry to Heathrow. But I'm not going to remain bogged down ranting about media bias because there are bigger fish to fry here.

If you put yourself in the shoes of an airline executive, one moment's thought will tell you that you will have to run flights at a loss from time to time in order to maintain reliable service. This is because people do not arrange their lives around how many seats are available on an airline's flights. (And since they have to plan ahead and can't predict the future, they couldn't even if they wanted to.)

Certainly, you'd love it if you could run every flight at exactly 100% capacity, but if you did not routinely fly with extra capacity, you would be constantly having to turn passengers away, either at home or -- as the environmentalists evidently expect you to -- when they need to return. Airlines have to do this, and our five-passenger flight is merely an extreme example of an airline taking the prudent measure of flying with extra capacity.

So the whole premise that American "wasted" fuel is dishonest, as is the premise that this flight is remarkable in any important way. But as Ayn Rand's arch-villain, Ellsworth Toohey once put it, "Don't bother to examine a folly -- ask yourself only what it accomplishes." So what is raising a hue and cry over a normal aspect of operating any transit system accomplishing here? Put another way, what do environmentalists always try to accomplish when they start making noise about anything? Richard Dyer puts it this way:
Governments must stop granting the aviation industry the unfair privileges that allow this to happen by taxing aviation fuel and including emissions from aviation in international agreements to tackle climate change. [bold added]
This is an attempt to gain public sympathy for more government taxation and regulation of the economy. Such regulation will, if Dyer has his way, take the form of preventing airlines from using their own property to make money by, incidentally, providing you and me with reliable transportation.

Our individual rights stem from the fact that as rational animals, we prosper or perish according to our ability to plan ahead and act in accordance with our best judgement -- such as making sure we have enough jets on hand to fulfill our obligations to paying passengers. And we depend on the government to protect us from others forcing us to act to the contrary (i.e., to protect our individual rights, including the right to property). Dyer would have the government function for exactly the opposite of its proper purpose.

The left wants the government to override the rational judgement of countless individuals because its followers think they know better, and one way to do this is to dismiss property rights as "privileges" and to pave the way for the government to deprive us of those rights in the name of preventing waste that really isn't waste.

And if you don't believe me, ask yourself the following two questions. (1) If airlines routinely waste fuel, how do they manage to stay in business in the face of competition? (2) If the greens really cared about waste, why do they insist that citizens who do not use government transportation pay taxes to support countless empty buses burning fuel on unprofitable routes in countless American cities every day? (Hint for Question 2: Words to the effect of, "The buses wouldn't be empty if the government forced more people to ride them," only prove my point.)

This asinine attack against American Airlines has nothing to do with waste, and everything to do with depriving us of our right to property, and further expanding the reach of the already over-intrusive governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

-- CAV


: Minor edits.


Monica said...

I would have had fun on this flight. Think how great it would be to put up the arms and lay down on five seats. :)

Gus Van Horn said...

That sure would beat my last transatlantic flight!

C. August said...

Great analysis, Gus. I heard about this yesterday on the drive into work, and I was yelling at the radio. Luckily the guy talking about it - a Boston area sports radio guy - is an anti-environmentalist and he was ranting too. Then I forgot to look up the details of the story, so thanks for your in-depth examination.

I particularly enjoyed your focus on the dishonesty of the green's claims, given that American needed more planes in London whether there were 5 people or no people on the east-bound flight.

Gus Van Horn said...


The funny thing is, that aspect of it occurred to me only as I was blogging this....

Dismuke said...

Hmmph. Yet one does not hear the same outcry from this crowd when Algore flies around in a private jet to promote his propaganda movie. I wonder what his carbon output is compared to each of those five passengers.

And you just know that these are the exact same people who would absolutely freak out if a flight they are on runs late and make loud but vague threats to airline employees how they are going to use their connections to terminate their jobs if the plane does not get off the ground RIGHT NOW.

Gus Van Horn said...

Quite true.

Stella said...

Today, the only thing I love more than this post are the comments to this post. Thank you for an excellent analysis (and a nice daydream about taking a nap across a whole row of seats).

Gus Van Horn said...

Always happy to be of service, Stella!