Remembering an inspirational man — JFK

This one has relatively little to do with aviation and much to do with inspiration.

When I was a kid, my folks took me to see John F. Kennedy speak.  It was during the 1960 campaign, I was all of four.  I don’t remember what he said, but I remember being there and seeing him (and going to a diner that night for dinner!).  This past summer, I drove by the place where I heard him speak and it was all so familiar.

Anyway, I don’t ever remember wanting to be involved in anything but government and public service.  I think it is fair to say that I might be the youngest person in America directly inspired by JFK.

A lot of that came back last night watching the reruns of JFK’s inaugural speech, 50 years ago yesterday.  And,  I remember the way I felt when I saw him in 1960, and the way I felt during those next three years, as if it was all yesterday.

Obviously, the first three jobs I held, for two senators and a governor, fit into the traditional model of government and public service.  But one of the reasons the job I have now, and the airport industry in general, appeal to me is that what we do is all about service.  Serving the transportation needs of the community, bolstering economic growth and employment, and by doing so helping make possible the resources necessary to meet critical community needs such as education, health care, mental health, the environment, and so forth.

So, thanks JFK for the inspiration you gave to me, and to so many others all those years ago.

Another Misleading Claim About ‘Fees and Taxes’

I was in a meeting today and I heard an airline lobbyist start to complain about how much of a $300 fare is taken up by “taxes and fees.”  I had a couple of thoughts:

Where does one find a $300 air fare these days?

If I was lucky enough to find one, and my kid got sick and I had to change my flight that would be a $150 change fee.  If I check two bags that is $120 round trip.  Let’s see, that’s $270 in fees.  Hey, that’s 90 PERCENT!  And that’s if I don’t fly on an airline that makes me pay a fee to pick my seat (stop giggling); or to carry an infant on my lap, which I see is the new fee idea.

I love the Southwest Airlines Fee Court commercials , which are now focused on the ridiculous change fees most airlines charge.

When my father-in-law died, I could not have the change fee waived because I didn’t know the phone number of the hospital he was in.  Were they really going to call to make sure he was sick?

This fee thing is a curious animal.  As I’ve always said, if airlines want to charge for these things, and people will pay for it, then fine; it’s an economically de-regulated industry.  But let’s economically de-regulate the entire aviation industry, including airports.

POSTSCRIPT:  Right before the end of the year, Roger Milliken passed away at the age of 95.  Roger was known for many things, mostly his support of the US textile industry, his opposition to free trade and his support for the South Carolina Republican party and his obituaries tended to mention all that.  But he was also chairman, for something like half a century, of the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport board.  As chairman, he was interested in doing all he could to support his airport and community, but he was also interested in doing all he could to support the industry and the air transportation system.  I first met him before his airport was an ACI-NA member, when he and his entire board came to a conference we held.  They all sat in the front row, attentive the entire time.  The airport joined on the spot and I could always count on seeing him at meetings geared toward airport board members.  I’ll miss seeing him in the future.  Roger Milliken, RIP.

POSTSCRIPT #2:  Yesterday, another 95 year old, Sargent Shriver, died.  It is hard to name very many other Americans who led a more important life during the 20th century.  He was the man first put in charge of the Peace Corps by his brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy, and he was the man who really made the Peace Corps the force it ultimately became.  He ran President Johnson’s War on Poverty, served as ambassador to France, ran for Vice President and for President.  His wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and his children have not only been successful on their endeavors but have enriched the life and attitudes of this country in so many ways, with the most famous being the Special Olympics.  One of the thrills of my own professional life was to have worked on a report for a Southern Governors Association Advisory Council on International Education and, later on, efforts by the Commonwealth of Virginia to draw on the experience of recently returned Peace Corps volunteers to enrich the education of Virginia’s school children and to learn from then-Peace Corps Director Loret Ruppe, that Sargent Shriver very much approved of the report and of our project.  How many of us can say our lives truly changed our country?  Sargent Shriver, RIP.

Israeli Security Practices that Won’t ‘Translate’

 

Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport

As promised, here is the second installment in the series on security in Israel, this time focusing on those things that don’t translate.  Last week I talked about a few things that could be applied here.

As has already been stated multiple times, the fact that Israel has as many flights (almost all of them from one airport) in a full day as Chicago O’Hare has in an hour or two, makes certain things possible there that would be impossible here.  If we tried to apply the system directly, it would shut air travel down.  Just thinking about imposing their system, in its entirety on O’Hare or Reagan National or any of a number of places makes me shudder. 

Most Americans, when they talk about Israeli security and say we need to do what they do here, believe that the profiling system used in Israel would let most of us skip merrily through the airport experience with barely any attention at all.  That’s just not the case.  Everyone gets profiled in Israel.  You get profiled when you drive up to the airport, when you walk through the door and before you ever get to the check in counter.  At least two of these three involve a conversation.  They might be relatively short conversations, but multiplied out over thousands and thousands of people over a full day at a large U.S. airport, it would lead to delays that no passenger would tolerate.  And, that is for people who would pass through those conversations with no problem.  For others, well it can take much longer.  They NEED to do this in Israel and they have a system that can tolerate it.  We don’t. 

By the way, the first of those conversations occurs when you drive up and a long way from the front door.  Many airports (Reagan National, LaGuardia and many others) just don’t have that kind of geography. 

It is also worth noting that Israeli security personnel, even the screeners at the checkpoint, have all, by and large, been through 2-3 years of military service and training.  When you spend time in Israel it is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t just what a difference this makes.  And, not just at the airport, but everywhere even restaurants and hotels and stores.  Every Israeli, by their early to mid-20’s, has served in the military.  They bring a sense of discipline and responsibility to any job that comes with such service.  Many talk about screeners and other personnel in the United States not having the training and experience, and the fact that screeners don’t last a long time in their jobs; it is not a decades-long career path for most people.  That’s true in Israel too.  But, the training received in the military does make a big difference.  We need to do better on training here, but we can never duplicate the backgrounds all security personnel have in Israel. 

It is also worth noting that a large percentage of airport staff work in security, and it has been reported in the paper that Israel spends about 10 times as much, per passenger, as we do here.  Our system could never tolerate that, and luckily we don’t need to go to such lengths. 

So, when you hear people say we should just do what they do in Israel, we should apply some perspective.  Yes, there are things we can bring over here and I wrote about many of those last week.  Here’s another:  what about a “positive” profiling system where people can opt in, provide a certain amount of information, and go through expedited screening.  This would not just be a front of the line program, and would only make sense if a large enough number of people enroll.  It would be voluntary. It’s one idea.  But it is also worth noting that passengers in Israel have already been “profiled” before they reach the checkpoint, everyone is treated the same at the checkpoint.  Here, the checkpoint is the place where TSA and passengers interact.  So, the “benefits” received by people enrolling in such a program are a little tougher to quantify. 

Israel is a wonderful place; I told one airport director that the trip last month is the one I will remember the longest.  Having the opportunity to be briefed on aviation security there is a wonderful thing, and I’ve now done it twice.  There is much we can learn.  And, there is much we just can’t translate to our experience here.

In Tucson, Did the Power of Passion Go Too Far?

The assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has focused a great deal of attention these past 48 hours on the tone and tenor of our political discourse.  I certainly agree that violent words or images ought to be used sparingly, if ever; whether from the left or the right.  Nevertheless, I have been thinking about things on a somewhat more basic level.  

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

 

Motivation and passion are two critical concepts in politics.  The Founders created a system that works best when peoples’ motivations are not under attack; when we can give those on the opposite side of an issue credit for wanting what is best for their country.  In addition, the Founders were a passionate lot, and they assumed their decedents would be as well.  So they arranged a system to channel those passions into action while also balancing them to prevent overreach. Regarding motivation, there is something fundamentally wrong when those who hold a position characterize the people holding the opposite position as not caring about God, country, family; as having a set of values that is somehow un-American.  Whenever I find myself veering off into such a direction I think about three people much admired:  

I think about Mother Theresa.  A few years after her death, some writings of hers were found in which she admits (to herself and to God) a crisis of faith.

I think about James Madison.  Near the end of his presidency, he supported a bill to fund “internal improvements” (what we call infrastructure) because he believed it to be constitutional.  But when it passed and it was time to sign it, he vetoed it because he was no longer sure t it was constitutional.  And this was the “Father” of the Constitution!

Ronald Reagan.  He voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt four times.  He also signed four large (by today’s definition) tax increases into law (The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, an increase in the gas tax, passed late in 1982, Social Security reform in 1983 and the Tax Reform Act of 1986).  And he actually talked to the Soviets (for which he was greatly criticized at the time).

If Mother Theresa can have a crisis of faith, if James Madison can hesitate on what the constitution really called for in a particular case, if Ronald Reagan can vote for FDR four times, sign four tax increases and talk to the Soviets, if all those things can happen, isn’t it obvious that someone who cares deeply about God, country, family and values can come to vastly different conclusions about what those might mean in some particular instance?  Can anyone doubt the motives of these people I’ve just mentioned?

Regarding passion, the real genius of the Constitution is its reliance on balance of power.  Between House and Senate.  Between legislative and executive.  Between and among all three branches of the federal government.  Between federal and states.

But it also sought to balance the power of passion.  Passion is a critical element in the success of any leader, of any enterprise.  But it is not always a positive characteristic.  Having seen the destructive force of passion as evidenced by centuries of European wars, the Founders sought to create a system in which peoples’ passions would have an outlet at the ballot box and through their representatives.  It is a system that makes change hard, and that ensures that people will have their say.  When some believe (and this has happened on both ends of the political spectrum during my time here), in the throes of their passion, that losing an argument is the same as an attack on them and on their country; that is when we must take a step back.

I would argue that this is one of those times. And. it would have been even if the assassination attempt had not occurred. But it did, we can’t change that. So we can make sure that something good comes of its aftermath. The President, the Speaker and others have said and done all the right things over the past 48 hours. All of us who care about our country should do the same.

Where U.S. Can Imitate Israeli Airport Security

 

Israeli's Ben-Gurion International Airport -- its only airport -- handles in one day the traffic that Chicago O'Hare handles in two hours.

 

I saw in the news the other day that Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has been visiting Israel for a firsthand look at their aviation security systems. Having done the same just a few weeks ago myself (and having taken a similar tour in 2009), her comment that we could not simply adopt the same system here rings true. They have as many flights in Israel in one day as O’Hare has in about two hours. They have one major international airport; we have dozens, plus hundreds of other airports. And so on. 

In my next post, I will (as promised in an earlier post) talk a little more about what does not translate from there to here.   But in this post, I will focus on some things that do. 

First, the importance of sharing threat-based intelligence and other information with stakeholders.  Again, this is much easier in Israel with far fewer facilities and people than it would be in the United States. But DHS and TSA must do a better job of sharing intelligence with stakeholders, as well as sharing information on what they plan to roll out. 

Second, the importance of risk-based and common sense measures. There is an old saying that if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. In the United States, we tend to treat all threats as equal. We also do some things that defy common sense in the name of security. 

Third, tests that sometimes result in failures can be good things. In the United States, a failed test is treated as a calamity. In Israel, they understand that the terrorists will always look for any weak spot, and will always look for ways to turn today’s strength into tomorrow’s weakness. We need to understand where those current and potential weaknesses are before the terrorists do. 

Fourth, training matters. There are reasons why the training their security personnel have will always be different than what ours have, but the important point is that training matters. 

Fifth, the security “experience” should be interwoven into an overall positive customer experience at the airport.  Even with the more intricate system they have, passengers still have time to purchase food and goods, thereby keeping non-aeronautical revenues healthy.   

As Secretary Napolitano says, the overall system can’t be transplanted here. But these are some factors that can teach us something. 

Next time, I will talk a little further about what could not be brought here.