AS AIRLINES have posted record profit, flyers have been asking why they aren’t getting what they crave most: cheaper fares. But airline employees have been seeking something else—namely, more investment to make firms function better. That demand has spilled out into a very public fight.

Four unions at Southwest Airlines have issued calls this week for the company’s top two executives to step down. The immediate cause is a technology outage last month that led thousands of flights to be cancelled or delayed, leaving hundreds of thousands of passengers in the lurch and prompting questions about whether the airline had neglected its IT systems.

But, as usual, there is a bigger story at play here, a basic one about capitalism. America’s four largest airlines—Southwest, American, United, and Delta—posted $22 billion in combined profits last year after a decade of mainly losses, due in...Continue reading