Two years ago, ACI-North America and ACI World held a joint conference in Boston. There were more than 2300 people there from every corner of the world. When we left, there was one person who the other 2300 people were talking about: Alfred (Fred) Kahn.
Dr. Kahn was our keynote speaker. Dr. Kahn is best known as the father of US airline deregulation, and his ideas have taken root around the world. What we take for granted, that you can fly anywhere from anywhere on almost any airline, would not have been possible without his work. Because before Fred Kahn came on the scene, the reality of air travel was much different.
We were chatting before his speech and I saw his notes for his talk. As you might expect from someone so experienced and thoughtful, his notes had been edited and re-edited, right up to the moment when we walked on to the stage. He wanted it to be perfect.
Our then-chair, Randy Walker, introduced him. Dr. Kahn began by saying “it’s nice to be here, but at my age (then 91) it’s nice to be anywhere.” From that moment on, he had everyone in the room in the palm of his hands. He talked about deregulation and its aftermath. He drew lessons that were pertinent for everyone in the room, no matter where they came from. I was the person who had to follow him to the podium and I could see the hold he had on everyone in the room.
More than one person told me that having the chance to hear him was worth the price of admission to the conference. People still say that today.
Having met him and been on a stage with him was one of the highlights of my career. Having traveled widely and easily, I feel myself in his debt on a regular basis.
Fred Kahn passed away this week at 93. Unfortunately, no one from here on will have the experience I had that day in Boston. But we will all benefit from his work and ideas, for as long as people travel. Alfred (Fred) Kahn. RI