business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Unless you’ve been under total media silence for the past few months you’ve noticed an on-going story perplexing consumers and one very large global industry: airlines. Hardly an hour passes without stories of major flight delays impacting travelers in various parts of the globe.

And even when flights are successful, they seem to leave behind a mountain of lost luggage either in their origination, destination or connection point. Rather than take any glee in this happening to another industry, retailers would be well advised to remember a line that dates back to the mid-16th century:  "There but for the grace of God go I."

(A historical note of irony:  That phrase is attributed to an English theologian and religious reformer named John Bradford, who said it about prisoners about to be executed.  However, Bradford himself was burned at the stake in 1555 … which says something about the transitory nature of avoiding the inevitable, and maybe something about the grace of God.  But I digress…)

The airline industry is a very, very different business model than running a retail store, but their problem is very, very similar: people. Right now, staffing shortages are hampering nearly every part of the flying experience turning what was once routine into a nightmare for consumers. Certainly that’s a situation retailers can understand.

But a second and looming problem for the airline business should also merit more than a moment’s consideration for any businessperson in any field: the increased pace of retirements draining the airlines system of its most critical pool of staffers - its pilots.

The situation is so bad that the industry is lobbying Congress to raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots to 67 from the current 65 and to lessen some requirements for new pilots.

And to show that there’s nothing new about this problem, it was only 15 years ago that the same retirement requirement was raised to 65 from age 60.

So, why should you care other than the fact that your next pilot might have gone to Woodstock? It’s simple, because this is your problem as well.

In a video last week, Kevin made an important suggestion that companies need to consider creating a “heat officer” position, or someone to help food companies (retailers and suppliers) prepare for increasing heat emergencies as we’ve all been experiencing.  It’s a notable idea just as it is worth having in-house plans for hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes or other natural disasters.

Likewise, you need a plan for staffing beyond the current labor shortage. Business leaders have known for more than a decade that the demographic reality of the large baby boom generation guarantees an enormous brain drain. (A situation only made worse by covid-induced retirements.) If you haven’t started already you need succession planning throughout your organization to deal with a tidal wave of coming retirements especially in upper level and middle management.

Demographics are always seen as destiny because population trends undeniably show us the future. The issue with airline pilots is your issue as well and unless you want to experience a massive loss of leadership, experience and institutional knowledge in the next few years you need to start planning immediately, if not sooner.

To paraphrase Bette Davis, from All About Eve, "Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

There’s an increasing likelihood that your pilot will be familiar with that movie.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.