Fuel: Can you really just choose to pay less for fuel as part of your "cost cutting?" Not really. You can hedge fuel - but that is something that is necessarily done ahead of time and only when an opportunity presents itself.
Maintenance: Can you really just choose to cut down on maintenance? Even people here have made insidious remarks about how one airline or another is only succeeding because they are practicing unsafe maintenance procedures in order to cut costs. Certainly that's not something that can or should be done in order to lower expenses and be profitable.
Aircraft purchase/lease: Unlike many industries where you can just start buying less expensive machinery and see an immediate turnaround, airlines cannot just start buying cheaper planes and see an overnight benefit. These aren't office supplies we are talking about. If you need to cut your costs over 6 months, we are only talking a few aircraft (if you happen to be receiving new ones at all during that time) and the additional costs of changing to a less expensive type would likely offset the purchase savings.
Marketing: While airlines in many markets don't have to worry about "brand awareness" (like in hub markets) and in other situations let the internet booking sites or travel agents do the talking for them, there is still a lot of money that needs to go into putting your product in the forefront. There may be more leeway here in an emergency than in other places, but is this something that you really want to cut back on?
Gate Space/Landing Fees: Some things are just necessary for operation and can't be cut or are not in the direct control of the airline anyway (landing fees). However, there can be some adjusting here and there. De-peaking a hub (rolling hubs) means that an airline can get better utilization out of gates and ground assets - therefore needing less of them to serve the same number of flights per day... but that's simply a matter of degrees.
That just leaves us with the biggest expense of all for an airline. Labor. We can all agree that an airline either can't reduce or shouldn't reduce expenses in other areas... at least not to a level that is going to make a difference. But LABOR can be negotiated, trimmed, deferred, massaged, etc. It is certainly true that the airline can't run if the people don't work - something that unions make very clear to management once in a while through tactics ranging from subtle suggestion up to strikes (or worse). However, the reverse is never that apparent until the 11th hour - that the people can't work if there is no airline.
When that realization occurs, it is often disguised or recast by the cries of "it's not fair that all these people should lose their jobs!" Well, that may seem true, but really it has nothing to do with whether or not it is fair - it just is. One would think that the airline would rather stay in business and pay its employees than fold. Of course, it is even blamed on management by claiming "its not the employees' fault that the airline is in trouble." Well, that is true as well to an extent. There are usually too many factors to pin down what or who was at fault which makes that a rather pointless effort anyway. However, some of the blame can be placed on those people that are narrow-sighted enough to insist ONLY on the alleged well-being of the employees rather than in the success (or even survival) of the company as a whole. Those people, of course, are union leaders who, by nature of their position, are ONLY interested in furthering the position of their charges (the employees). The result is that labor is now being put into the same "untouchable" category of other expenses such as maintenance, fuel, etc.
Therein lies the quandary.
If a struggling airline:
... then what is there for them to do?
Every time debt is forgiven through bankruptcy or renegotiation of terms, it hurts the economy as a whole. In short, it is money or product that has been given away for free (or very reduced rates). That is someone else's labor that has gone uncompensated. That is someone else's paycheck in a different industry entirely that is going up in smoke. That may mean someone else's job working for some parts manufacturer in the supply chain is now in jeopardy - or even gone entirely. That is someone's potential new job opportunity that has now evaporated because the airline didn't pay its bills - and a judge somewhere said that it was "OK" for them not to do so. Do we weep for these people? Is there a huge outcry of "there are thousands of people out of work or taking pay cuts because the airlines are bankrupt!"? I haven't heard it.
We complain about the idea of laying off 1000 flight attendants. We never notice the damage that would be done by continuing to pay them.
We despair about the "latest round of concessions" by the mechanics. We never think about the tool company that closed it's doors because the airline was allowed to not pay their bill rather than pay a dollar an hour less to the mechanics that used the tools.
We are shocked at the stories of pilots who aren't making what other pilots are... and yet we never cry over the mom and pop business that can't get a small loan from the major bank because the bank didn't get their loan payments from the airline.
I'm not judging... I'm pondering. I ask you to do the same.
- What expenses, exactly, are we expecting the airlines to cut if not labor?
- At what point do we balance the damage being done to the economy by the airline industry's "serial bankruptcies" with the damage we allege is being done to a relative handful of employees?
- At what point do we realize that, while the airlines continued healthy existence is necessary for the country's economic stability, their continued unhealthy state is undermining the exact same economic stability it is meant to serve?
Let's think about this... not slam each other about it.