Not, Another National Airline Policy

Recently, calls have been heard for a new national aviation policy.  As is often the case, airlines morph this into calling for a new national airline policy.

I think this provides an interesting insight into the view of airlines regarding the true purpose of air transportation.  I’d always thought it was the movement of people and products to destinations and markets.  For thousands of years, that was the definition of transportation, whether by river, by sea, by land or by air.  In that case, you’d call for a national aviation policy.

"This summer’s sequence of events . . . underscores why we need a National Airline Policy." ATA's Calio

But it is clear that U.S. carriers view the purpose of air transportation differently.  They seem to view the purpose of air transportation as somehow ensuring the financial success of the carriers themselves.  Hence the call for a national airline policy.

There are other industries under financial pressure, book stores, travel agencies, banks.  But you don’t hear anyone calling for a national book store policy or a national travel agency policy or a national bank policy.  Oh, wait a minute.  We did have a national bank policy.  It was called a bail out.

Hmmmm.  Oh, now I understand!

9/11 + Ten Years

I am a believer in anniversaries, especially when they are used to not only mark something that happened in the past, but to also prepare for a better future.  July 4 is like that; we mark our independence, celebrate it, and re-dedicate ourselves to the founding propositions.

So it is as we mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (I never call them the “events” of 9/11; the Rose Bowl is an event.  I also never call them the “tragic events” of 9/11; a bad car accident is a tragic event.  It was an attack, pure and simple).

The 9/11 attacks hold a special place in the history of ACI-NA and the airport industry.  Obviously, the entire industry was impacted in one way or another, that day and every day since.  Many knew people killed in those attacks.  The 2001 joint ACI-NA and ACI World annual conference was being held on that very day, in Montreal.  Paul Benoit, the director of the Ottawa, Canada airport has written about what it was like to be there.

Everyone has a story of where they were and what they were doing.  From my last post you know that I live close enough to the Pentagon that the smell of the fire wafted through the house and my wife could hear the impact (as could my kids in their high school).  I was at work in my previous job when I heard about the first plane to hit.  Having heard stories growing up of the plane that flew into the Empire State Building many years earlier, I assumed/hoped it was the same.  When the second hit I called my wife who was scheduled to come into town for lunch with me that day (my office was 5 blocks from the White House).  I told her what happened, that it was a terrorist attack, and that these people like to do coordinated, simultaneous attacks; one on Washington was almost a certainty, so don’t come into town for lunch.

About a half hour later we heard about the plane that went into the Pentagon.  There were also reports of one that went into the National Mall, and explosions at the State Department and Old Executive Office Building (these reports, delivered by trusted anchors, were later deemed false, but if you were sitting at 19th and K that morning you didn’t know).  Traffic was snarled.  By 2:30, figuring the attacks were over and with Metro not running, I decided to walk home, about 9 miles.  Luckily, a co-worked, came by and offered me a ride (his name was Ed Ross, he died earlier this year, a wonderful guy, the type of person you want to be with in a tough situation).  Those 9 miles took 2 ½ hours to cover by car and we watched the Pentagon burn the whole way.  Watching TV the rest of the day and night the enormity of it all became apparent.  If you read my last post you also know what I thought about that night.

This is the first time I’ve ever written any of this down, and it will be the last.  For while anniversaries are for remembering and honoring the past, they are best if they serve as a pivot to a better future.  One of the many things I like best about the job I have now is being part of an industry that shows the terrorists every single day that they failed in what they tried to do.  We will and do move on.  We are not going to be afraid of them or what they want to do to us.  Because they will want to scare us till the end of time, and there is no future worth having living in such fear.

Looking back, al Qaeda and the 19 terrorists succeeded in killing 3,000 people and bringing down the towers (I drive by the re-built part of the Pentagon every day on my commute).  But they failed in every other way.  Al Qaeda is all but a spent force in many ways, though there will always be people who wish us harm.  None of bin Laden’s larger strategic goals came to pass, just the opposite.  Indeed, the Arab Spring shows that bin Laden is likely to be consigned to history’s dust “bin” (pun intended), to borrow Ronald Reagan’s phrase.

And every day, 2 million people travel through America’s airports on vacations, business trips, personal trips or whatever.  Many go to places bin Laden hoped to keep them from ever visiting.  Yes, we take our shoes off and have rejuvenated the plastic baggie industry with our liquids.  But those are minor things, also destined for the dust bin.

I am so proud every day to be part of an industry that shows the terrorists, day in and day out, that they did not win, they cannot win and they will never win.

9/10: Are you a July 4 American or a 9/11 American?

Flag at Reagan National Airport

Next week will mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and I will write something about that then. But today I want to write about 9/10/01.

The night before the attacks was one I will never forget; a night that made me feel great about our country, our ideals and our people.

At the time, I was President-elect of the PTA at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Movie buffs might recognize the name of the high school; it was featured in the movie “Remember the Titans.” One of the duties of the PTA President-elect is to represent parents at the Academic Letter ceremony. At T.C. Williams, good students receive “letters” same as the athletes get. I was on stage as a couple hundred or more students came up to get their letters; I shook every hand.

If you saw the movie you will remember the school combining several high schools in post-integration Alexandria. These days the demographics include students from all over the world, more than 80 countries. Think of all the countries in the world that have had civil wars these past three decades and you will find students from those countries at T.C.

I shook the hands of tow head blonds, African American kids, and kids from so many of those countries. This was a big night for those kids and many came dressed up; some in native garb. I just enjoyed being with those kids that night and thought “this is what makes America great.”

The following night, after the attacks, close enough to my house to hear the impact and smell the fire, I went to bed thinking of the night before and had the same feeling; those attacks whose burning aftermath I could smell inside my house couldn’t change that.

Many of those kids came from countries based on ethnicity or religion. (I am proud of my own ethnicity and a church-going religious person, by the way). Our country is based on an idea, and anyone willing to accept that idea — including those kids whose hands I shook — is welcome. That is what makes us great, what makes us exceptional.

Someone once wrote we can choose to be July 4 Americans or 9/11 Americans. I am a July 4 American and celebrate our freedom and the notion that our best days are always ahead.  Attacks like the 9/11 attacks cannot ever change that.  And, at the risk of offending the likes of Glenn Beck, I am a 9/10 American, which to me means shaking the hands of hundreds of high achieving, enthusiastic, kids who come from everywhere and anywhere to take advantage of the promise of America.