Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw |

Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw

Andy Stone
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

I have recently developed a deep personal loathing for a man named Jeffery Smisek.

Never heard of him?

Oh yes, you know who he is.

Actually, I have never met this Smisek creature, but his annoying face and syrupy, fake-sincere weasel voice are thrust into my consciousness at the beginning of every United Airlines flight.

Still don’t know who I’m talking about? OK. Let’s get right to the point: The Smisek creature is the CEO of United Airlines.

Now are you all aquiver with rage?

I suspect you are, since we in the valley are pretty much all hostages to United.

And we are, may I note, hostages without the benefit of Stockholm syndrome – the phenomenon in which hostages, after a prolonged period, begin to identify and even sympathize with their captors.

Not likely in this case. In fact, if there were a United version of Stockholm syndrome it would be the result of flying to Stockholm, Sweden, on United Airlines – which brings us back to the subject of quivering with rage.

United, of course, recently merged with Continental to form the world’s largest airline – which seems to me to rate bragging rights right after the world’s largest fever blister.

Before the merger, United was a big, dumb airline, specializing in mediocre operations that extracted the most money possible in return for the least service possible.

In short, your average modern airline.

(Mandatory, but sincere, disclaimer: United has many wonderful people who sometimes manage to rise above the constraints of the truly rotten corporation they work for. Thank you.)

But since the merger, almost everything about United has become even worse: the website, the reservations system, the telephone customer service, the frequent-flier program, the in-flight entertainment, even – for crying out loud – the coffee. (The food, of course, could not have become worse, unless they began actively trying to poison customers. Hmmm. If there was a buck in it, they would. Diner beware. Caveat comedentum.)

The merger was years in the making; but as soon as it took effect, things fell apart.

And that was when the face and voice of the Smisek creature began appearing, insisting that he loved us – each and every one of us – and that nothing, absolutely nothing in this world, was as important to him as our happiness.

Nothing except his $13 million paycheck – although, for some reason, he doesn’t mention that. I’m sure he meant to, he just ran out of time. The same way I ran out of time, waiting on hold for 45 minutes to talk to someone to correct a reservation screw-up caused by the new computer system. (And getting that new system up and running on time was one of the requirements for the Smisek to qualify for his full pay. Gee, you don’t think they rushed that, do you?)

Putting the creature’s face in front of our captive eyes was standard corporate procedure.

Show that the boss man is human. Let him connect, one-to-one with every customer. Forge a real connection. Blah, blah, blah.

But really it was an astonishing act of corporate stupidity and hubris.

All they really accomplished was to show us the face of the enemy, the face of the man who, in order to reach qualifying benchmarks for cost-cutting and profit, put credit-card slots next to the TV screen on the back of every seat on my latest United flight. Beside those slots are instructions to “swipe” your credit card through the slot and pay to watch the TV program. That’s right: In-flight “entertainment” is no longer free. And if the flight is longer, you pay more. Of course.

I loathe that Smisek thing, a demon in a suit of human flesh.

Which brings us to Mitt Romney.

Not that I suspect Mitt of being a demon in a suit of human flesh. Well, maybe I do – but that’s not the point today.

The point today is that Mitt claims that his greatest qualification to be president is his experience as a “businessman.”

And the Smisek creature is a reminder of just what a rotten qualification that really is.

Anti-government conservatives like to say, “You want to see how government would run _____ (fill in the blank)? Just stop by your local Division of Motor Vehicles office and see government in action.”

To which I can only say, “You want to see how a businessman would run the government? Just fly United.”

OK. Forget United and think about a recent president who was hailed as “the first MBA (that’s Master of Business Administration) president.”

His name was George W. Bush. He brought us the Great Recession.

Need another example of businessman-turned-president? May I present Herbert Hoover. He brought us the Great Depression.

Running a company and running a country are very different jobs.

And, speaking of jobs – how about Steve Jobs? He was arguably the most successful businessman of our time.

He founded a business in his garage that, within his short lifetime, became one of the most valuable companies in the world – more valuable all the time. And the only major stumble for that company occurred when the businessmen on the Apple board of directors fired Jobs and brought in a “real businessman” to run the company. A few years later, Apple was near total collapse, and they had to bring Jobs back.

But no one thinks Steve Jobs would have made a great president.

Or how about Mark Zuckerberg? Facebook, the company he founded in his college dorm room, is about to be valued at $100 billion.

But that hoodie-wearing college dropout is more likely to be shot by an overaggressive neighborhood watch vigilante than he is to become president.

Or, if you really want to scrape the bottom of the business barrel, how about Jeffery Smisek?

Hell, I’d prefer Jeffrey Dahmer – at least he was out front about his cannibalism. Which brings us back to the in-flight food on United.

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