Airline Ethics


Ethics are essential in the Airline industry because they are the framework that guides individuals in the process of making business decisions. They usually encompass three features i.e. an application of one’s professional skills, incorporation of one’s personal values and lastly, good judgment. Codes of ethics are formal declarations of the moral values that guide various companies. Therefore, in the field of ethics, one can analyze an industry such as an Airline industry through its practical implementations and also through its formal declarations.

Ethical guidelines

Conflict of interest as part of ethical guidelines/code of conduct

Almost all Airline companies have formal declarations of their codes of ethics. Usually, this can be categorized under a series of topics such as conflict of interest, asset protection and working together. Conflict of interest refers to those scenarios where employees or company representatives have to decide between their interests to their employer or their personal/investment/ relationship obligations. Usually, most Airline companies have highlighted some of the issues that can be labeled conflict of interests in their ethics code of conduct. (Frontier airlines, 2004)

For instance, conflict of interest comes about when Airline personnel receive gifts or rewards from suppliers/ consumers/ stakeholders for doing their job. Usually, most Airlines prohibit gifts especially when those gifts seem excessive. The reason behind this is that when a client gives an attendant an expensive piece of jewelry for receiving very good customer service, that attendant may be obliged to meet the consumer’s demands the next time the client reports even when those demands are not procedural. This is because by accepting lavish gifts, one puts himself/herself in a position where they feel obligated to meet the gift giver’s needs and this eventually compromises their moral obligations.

Conflict of interest may also occur when a member of staff finds that they have to work extremely hard with certain clients and they request those suppliers/clients for rewards for their services. This is a conflict of interest because an employee finds that they have to choose between maintaining a good name for their Airline or meeting their personal financial interests. Consequently, it becomes necessary for Airlines to clarify that this is a wrong thing.

Additionally, conflict of interest may also arise when an employee works for different companies. Usually, working for other Airlines is not a violation of ethics codes in itself, however, it may become a source of conflict of interest in certain special circumstances. For example, when a staff member within one Airline company chooses to work for a competing Airline company, then this can be regarded as conflict of interest. However, the latter case usually applies to management level personnel rather than junior level employees. As managers, one would find that they have conflicting interests between improving their own company’s performance or improving their competitors. (Frontier airlines, 2004)

Additionally, conflicts of interests in this line of argument may also arise when employees have investments in competing Airlines. Such personnel may find it difficult to give their utmost devotion to one’s company performance when the other company stands to loose if the former company does well. This eventually creates a dilemma for the employee and may even hurt one or both Airlines. However, because this issue is fairly sensitive and debatable, then it is advisable for employees to discuss investment decisions with their respective human resource managers so as to ascertain that they are not violating their Airline’s moral code.

Additionally, conflict of interest may arise when one takes advantage of their position in order to harness corporate opportunities. For instance, when an Airline attendant talk with a client about a deal that may also be linked to their respective Airline, then this is a conflict of interests. In order for one to ascertain that they meet their respective ethical obligations, it is essential for employees to discuss possible corporate opportunities with their human resource representatives so as to make sure that they can meet these obligations well.

Conflict of interests may also arise when one has to work hand in hand with their family members, friends or spouses. Usually, this may not be a problem for Some Airlines, however, certain situations my arise when one finds that they have to choose between their obligations to their employer or their obligations to their friends or family. This impedes their work output and may be considered unethical. It should be noted that different Airlines have different rules based on this issue. Some companies only allow one family member within the company, other Airlines do not allow spouses in the same company while others do no permit any ties with other employees in the organization. In other circumstances, it is possible to find that an Airline allows all the latter issues. Consequently, these are issues that new employees have to familiarize themselves with as they join an Airline. (Frontier airlines, 2004)

Conflicts of interest may also arise when investors or company employees decide to liaise with other Airlines to compete unfairly in the industry. Usually, many Airlines prohibit engaging in any agreements with competitors on issues that may present conflict of interests. Examples of such issues include;

  • Agreeing to boycott suppliers
  • Deciding to allocate certain clients to one Airline
  • Manipulating clients or distributors
  • Deciding to fix prices
  • Fixing terms of ale
  • Etc

When employees opt to cooperate with other Airlines to institute any of the latter mentioned issues, then their will be competing unfairly and this means that they are violating their moral codes.

Asset Protection as part of ethical guidelines/codes of conduct

Many companies may prohibit their employees from wasting company resources or misusing it because this is still a violation of the ethics code. For example, when one finds that they want to use a company car for their personal interests instead of allocating it to its rightful function, then this means that one is not protecting their company interests. Usually, this is as a result of the nature of that respective company’s opportunities. Individuals need to look for ways in which they can protect their company business interests through their assets. It should be noted that assets may incorporate a number of examples; technology, intellectual property and physical property all fall under this category. This also means that most Airlines expect their personnel to keep company information private. Since many employees have contributed to the performance of a given company, then Airlines need to ascertain that their employees keep their trade secrets within the company. This means that it would be considered unethical for an employee to use a company logo unscrupulously, or to utilize sensitive information like social security numbers or credit card numbers. In line with this is the issue of information security. Employees must ensure that they keep things such as passwords secret even when they are pressed for time.  It is also crucial for staff members in Airlines to retain records. Since Airlines are based on record implementation, then is critical for employees to ensure that these are adhered to in the process. (Mc Donald, 2008)

Accounting standards and financial standards apply to Airline companies as they do to all other businesses. It is essential for Airline employees to meet these standards by ensuring that their financial figures are credible and that they have not been changed in any way to give the company or the respective employee undue advantage. It should be noted that accounting standards do not just apply to respective companies alone, they also apply to all other companies that operate within these institutions. Consequently, it would be favorable for an Airline to ensure that all their members understand these ethical obligations. Examples of records that require accounting standards include time sheets, bills, regulatory data, expense reports, payroll; information among others.

Working together as part of the code of ethics

Many Airlines are driven by the need to respect each other in their lines of duty. Consequently, most of them usually ensure that they respect the issue of diversity, other people’ cultures and lifestyles too. Usually, this aspect is prevalent in most Airline recruitment exercises. A number of Airlines are committed towards establishing diverse work groups and they adhere to this in their employment practices. Additionally, many companies have made it part of their ethical codes of conduct to restrict harassment based on gender, race, age or any other attributes. Besides the later, employees are usually required to meet their obligations regardless of their affiliation to a client, supplier or any other stakeholder. For instance, when one chooses to give their friend or family member special attention in comparison to other passengers in the plane, then this can be a violation of a company’s ethical rules. Usually, most companies require that their employees meet their ethical procedures without favor. It is also essential for employees to avoid giving out travel privileges. Many Airlines offer travelling privileges to their employees. Employees ought to ensure that they do not violate these privileges by giving them to friends or family. (Mc Donald, 2008)

Companies usually ensure that their employees meet these ethical obligations through a number of channels. For instance, they may decide to establish ethical committees. Also, they may decide to look for ways in which this can be achieved through the establishment of strict repercussions for lack of implementation of these systems. By doing this, employees will go a long way in protecting their company name.

Examples of how ethics have been adhered to or violated in the airline industry

After examining the contents of most Airline companies’ ethics codes, it is essential to find out if Airlines actually follow these rules and obligations. Records show that a large portion of ethical guidelines actually act as the moral framework in various companies. However, one cannot undermine numerous reports in the media about ethics violations. This section of the essay shall look at such examples.

The case of South West Airline

The Federal Aviation Authority is a governing body that issues aviation directives in inspection of planes. Usually, airlines are supposed to conduct mechanical checks on all planes after specified time limits. This is usually necessary because when one examines an airplane’s tip during fight, it is usually common to find that the tip wiggles a bit. Airplane designers create the airplane in such a manner  so that a plane is light enough to take off from the ground. However, after subsequent exposure to stress through numerous flights, then airplane wings or other fuselage parts, may begin to crack and if left unchecked, they can lead to serious accidents. (Scheifer, 2003)

A case in point was a plane that belonged to the Ahoi Airline in 1988. This plane had not been inspected for a long time for cracks or any other signs of mechanical defects. During one of their flights, the plane’s top flew off and took with it an air plane attendant who died immediately. The rest of the people in the plane were lucky enough to arrive safely in nearby airports because their pilot controlled the plane regardless of the crisis. All that could have been avoided only if the planes had been inspected as stipulated by the Federal Aviation Authority.

The latter event took place some twenty years ago, but it serves as a lesson to current airplanes today. Southwest Airlines is one of the reputable companies in the US aviation industry. However, there are still numerous ethical violations that arise out of failure to meet their airline ethical standards. The company is required to perform airplane checks or cracks frequently. However, a check by a Federal Aviation Authority employee in 2007 found that the company’s inspections records were so mixed up that they implied that the company had not been performing checks as regularly as they should. Additionally, the FAA employee also found that some planes were behind on their checks by as much as one and a half years yet they were still being permitted to fly. This implied that Southwest Airlines were violating their obligations to the consumer and to their in-flight employees who had a right to fly safely. When this employee decided to report the case, he was advised by the Federal Aviation Authority to tone down the letter of investigation he had written against Southwest Airlines to a letter of concern. This case illustrated just how some regulators and Airlines liaise with one another to create unfair and unsafe business environments. (Scheifer, 2003)

The case of climate change

The aviation industry is one of the most talked about industries under environmental issues. Experts assert that this industry is responsible for some of the highest forms of carbon emissions within the atmosphere and it would therefore be unethical to encourage the growth of the industry. A case in point was witnessed in Britain when an investment firm known as Standard Life chose to eliminate all Airlines out of its list of firms to invest in. Examples of companies that were affected include Easy Jet and British Airways. Standard Life investment firm’s representatives asserted that the airline industry was responsible for close to seventeen percent of all carbon emissions in the United Kingdom. They also asserted that these same British airlines employees contributed to two percent of the world’s carbon gases. Consequently, encouraging them to do business was encouraging the emission of gases that could be a threat to man’ sustainability in the future and this was unethical. (Jamieson, 2008)

However, there were a number of controversial issues that represented themselves in that scenario. For instance, numerous investment firms (including the one that boycotted all UK airlines) utilize Airline services or air travel to conduct their business. Consequently, while boycotting investments in those companies, Standard group personnel still continued to use their services and those contravened the very purpose of the survey.

Besides the latter, not all aviation companies produce the same amount of carbon emissions. For instance, statistics show that private charter planes are more efficient than economy class planes because the number off emissions attributed to passengers is mush less in the former rather than the latter category. In light of the above, boycotting all airline companies without consideration of the nature of each violation has been called unfair by certain airlines. (Jamieson, 2008)

However, standard Life asserted that they came to this decision after conducting a survey that represented thirty thousand stakeholders. The investment firm took a sample of three thousand to assess their opinions on the issue of Airline companies and their environmental impact. It was found that seventeen percent of the respondents thought that environmental impact should be the number one priority in addressing ethical issues. Others have other priorities but they all revolved around social responsibility. The same group rated airline companies in the same category as pornographic companies, arms dealers and other negative companies. This was because all these companies conducted their businesses regardless of the effect that it had on society.

However, others have argued that by boycotting Airlines, Standard Life Investment was not being part of the solution but part of the problem. These companies argue that if the investment firms really wanted to institute change, then they needed to look for mechanisms that would allow them to work hand in hand with these people. For instance, if they continued to invest in Airline, then they would still be in a position that would allow them to change the behavior of those airline companies. However, by boycotting them, they moved from a state of action to inaction as Airlines would not be compelled to change their ways.

Regardless of these conflicting schools of thought, it is necessary to realize that Airline companies have not been acting ethically by emitting excessive carbon gases in the atmosphere. Most of them do not care about the impact they will have in the environment yet this is a serious problem today. Companies can start instituting mechanisms that facilitate change in this regard. (Jamieson, 2008)

The case of frequent flier programs

Many credit card companies have liaised with aviation companies to ensure that consumers only utilize their modes of payments when purchasing air fights. While this may seem like a relatively normal thing to do, it can be considered unethical because credit card consumers who use their visa cards to pay for airline tickets in frequent flier programs are entitled to higher levels of compensation than those who use cash. This is quite unfair because in normal circumstances, cash consumers are always supposed to pay less than credit card consumers. However, visa companies have created a system in which they charge their merchants extra costs and then lure consumers into using only their products when purchasing air tickets so that they can pay less. By teaming up with airlines to create a monopoly of some sort on the industry, these airlines and credit card companies are creating a monopoly by giving themselves undue advantage. (Doug, 2006)

Besides this, the issue of frequent flier programs is another unethical procedure used by airlines to ensure domination of consumers. For instance, when a client approaches an airline to purchase a ticket, that consumer will be given an incentive to ensure that they stick to a certain category of tickets known as the frequent flier programs. By giving the client an incentive to come back to the company even when their air services are poor, then airline companies are engaging in malpractice. (Doug, 2006)


Many companies have created ethical rules and procedures to assist their representatives in business processes. While these ethical codes assist a wide range of employees, there are numerous cases in which companies violate these terms. Examples include monopoly in service provision by liaising with suppliers, lack of fulfilling environment obligations and non-compliance to mechanical investigations.


Jamieson, A. (2008): Airlines are akin to arms dealers in ethics stakes; Scotland on Sunday Newspaper, 16Th September 2008

Mc Donald, C. (2008): Ethical issues in aviation, Associate press

Frontier airlines (2004); Code of Business conduct and ethics, retrieved from accessed on 17th November 2008

Doug, T. (2006): Ethics of frequent flier programs, retrieved from accessed on 17th November 2008

Scheifer, B. (2003): Apologies versus ethics, Washington Post