Along the Way I Gave a Speech

I just returned from a three city, 11 day trip; starting in Las Vegas, continuing to Pasadena/Burbank and then to Denver.  Along the way I saw some beautiful things.  The Pasadena City Hall, which I saw from my hotel room there, is as beautiful a public building as you’ll ever see and the Rocky Mountains, which I could see from my room in Denver, are…well…the Rockies.  I saw some creepy things, in my room at the Planet Hollywood Hotel in Las Vegas was a kimono worn by Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs (it was in my sleeping room!).  I saw some things I’d always wanted to see, such as Dodger Stadium (the 35th Major League ballpark I’ve visited).  And, I saw one of my oldest friends and a former college roommate (talented fellow named Julius Thompson, he actually won the Gong Show!)

Delivering the opening address at Global Airport Cities last week in Denver.

I also saw, through the three venues, roughly 1,300 folks, most of them ACI-NA members.  In Las Vegas I saw our Environment and Ops committee members, in Pasadena I saw our Airport Board Members and Commissioners, and in Denver I attended the Global Airport Cities conference, where I saw a number of airport directors and leading executives of key companies that supply airports and their passengers with goods and services.

Whenever I take a trip like that, I am always amazed at the energy, vision and intelligence of the airport community.  And, I am thankful to work for an industry that does so much to connect us to the world and to each other.  And, I must say, it is great to work for an industry where we don’t have to spin our good intentions, they are at the core of what we do every day.

But our ability to invest in our future, and that of our communities, is endangered.

In Denver, I gave a speech answering those in the airline community, in government and elsewhere, who say we do not need to invest in our aviation future.  Who say that our market is mature; that there will be no more growth.  Who say it does not matter that our competitors are investing in newer, more modern, efficient, facilities; they are just trying to build what we already have, not to worry.

I think these folks are wrong, and a quick look at demographics, economics and history shows they are.  The U.S. will add the equivalent of the population of Japan in the next few decades; we are, as Fareed Zakaria said, the only demographically dynamic country in the industrialized world.  New businesses and new industries are being invented and created all the time.  Our economy is incredibly dynamic, even now.  According to the World Trade Organization, 50 percent of U.S. exports, by value, travel by air.  Do none of these things matter?

What some are saying right now reminds me of what steel and auto executives said after World War II.  We know how that turned out.  By the 1970’s and 80’s Capitol Hill was crawling with people representing both industries begging for protection.  I worked there back then, I saw them.  Airlines are already doing that, working against Export-Import Bank support for sales of U.S. aircraft to non-U.S. airlines (to be clear, I am not taking sides in this one; not something we are involved in.  But it IS an example of the aviation industry feeding on itself).

I pointed out that by not investing and by concluding that the future will be devoid of growth we can guarantee that we will be right.

Afterwards, I got a lot of nice comments.  That’s to be expected, most people are polite.  But the most interesting comments I got were from those who are either from some of the parts of the world that want to supplant the US as a global aviation hub, or from many who have worked in those parts of the world.  They agree that I am right.  You see, some in the U.S. may be complacent about keeping our dominance, or perhaps figure that it is assured till the end of their own careers.  But there are a lot of folks out there who have us in their sights.

I invite you to read the speech and share your thoughts.

Cleveland: Marketing & Communications Conference

I spent much of the week in Cleveland attending our annual Marketing and Communications conference and our Jump Start air service development event.

View from my seat- Indians game, Progressive Field

First a couple of words about Cleveland:  A more gracious host would be impossible to find. Ricky Smith, the airport director, and Todd Payne, the Marketing honcho for the airport and their people couldn’t do enough. They were just great. We had a wonderful event at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (recommended) and Todd took me to see a game at Progressive Field, the 34th major league park I’ve visited (21st current park.) The Indians won and the ballpark was fantastic. We even got on the Jumbotron. If that wasn’t enough, Cleveland contains the gravesite of James Garfield, our 20th president (and the 27th gravesite I’ve visited.) His monument is the most ornate and nicest of all I  have visited so far.

President Garfield Monument and Burial Site

I’d only been to Cleveland once before, 20 years ago for a Democratic Leadership Council event where Bill Clinton delivered a speech that helped propel him to the nomination.  I’ve seen such change since the last time I was here; there is a lot of energy in this underrated city.

I’ve always believed marketing is one of the undervalued skills in any organization. Our Marketing and Communications Committee is among our most active and they put on a great conference. We are in a time when airports, individually and as a group, need to re-assess how we market our message and this meeting was full of great ideas. As you might expect, customer service and social media were two major elements of the discussion.

At lunch on Wednesday we presented our highest individual award for marketing excellence, the Ted Bushelman Award, to Tara Hamilton who does such a great job for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. I’ve known Tara since my days in Virginia state government and she does a great job.

We also had a presentation by wine expert Leslie Sbrocco. Leslie was wetting our appetites for the 2012 version of this meeting which will be held in Sacramento, right near California wine country. Leslie has two wine and food shows on PBS,  is a contributor on the Today Show and she really entertained us while educating us on wines.

The Jump Start event is sort of like speed dating between airports and airlines and this year we had more than a thousand meetings scheduled over a day and a half.  These meetings do sometimes lead to service, in case you were wondering; Oakland announced new Spirit Airlines service that grew directly out of discussions at last year’s Jump Start. Airports take their air service development responsibilities most seriously and this event offers a prime opportunity for airports and airlines to get together. Indeed, some of the most productive conversations happen in the hallway or the surrounding food and beverage establishments. This year a record number of meetings were scheduled.

A final unrelated note:  Clarence Clemons died earlier this week. He played the saxophone in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band and his sound can be heard through much of Springsteen’s music. That music has formed the sound track for many key parts of my life. One of my great college memories is being on the quad on a nice day with Springsteen blaring out someone’s window. Clarence’s sax was a big part of that. Clarence Clemons, for playing so memorably on the sound track of my life, RIP.

ARN Honors Savannah and Phoenix

I spent the last two evenings and part of Monday at the Airport Revenue News conference.  More than 700 airport staff and concessions company representatives attended the meeting held at the Washington National Harbor Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center in Maryland.

Last night, ARN saluted airports and concessionaires for the quality of their programs as they handed out their annual awards.  There are so many great and interesting things going on in the world of airport concessions and it is a great opportunity to get a sense of all that is going on.

There was a time when you could get anything you wanted to eat at an airport, as long as it was a hot dog or a cold piece of pizza.  You could buy anything you wanted, as long as it was the local paper or a t-shirt.  Now, the world is almost literally yours!  Airports, and their concessions partners have developed products and services that not only make the airport experience more enjoyable for the passengers, that not only provide food and goods you might need in a pinch, that not only help provide a sense of place to travelers, they are also a crucial linchpin in the airport effort to better serve the customer.

When airlines were deregulated, airports were seen as mere facilities, and airlines were supposed to be free to better serve the customer.  Today, the aluminum tube is the facility, and the REAL customer service nexus is the airport.  As airlines decided to de-emphasize (for cost or other reasons) basic services (and even courtesy), airports filled the breach.  Seeing the airports and companies who were recognized last night just brought that point home.

Beyond hot dogs and T-shirts. The Mosaic Fine Art & Craft Gallery at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport brings an artistic touch to the airport's retail offerings.

Also honored were ARN’s Small and Large Airport Directors of the Year.  In the Small Airports category, Patrick Graham of Savannah was the winner.  In addition to running one of the most beautiful airports in the country, Patrick is one of the industry’s best financial minds.  Perhaps his greatest legacy will be his organization of southeastern airports into the South East Airports Disaster Organization Group or SEADOG.  SEADOG airports spring into action whenever disasters strike; for example help from SEADOG was on the way to places like New Orleans and Gulfport before Katrina had even begun to do its damage.  What a great legacy.

In the Large Airports category, Danny Murphy of Phoenix was the winner.  Danny has been director only 5 years, but in that short period of time has done a great job mobilizing the community to support the airport and its growth, overseeing a rail project that will bring great passenger benefit for a long time to come.  Danny is always willing to pick up the phone and reach out to his legislators in Washington to try to move the overall industry agenda forward.  Both of these men have in place very strong staffs, and they allow those staff people use their talents for the betterment of the whole industry.  It is an honor to be able to work with both of them.

I want to end with two RIP’s.  First, Duke Snider, Hall of Fame center fielder for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers.  Snider is probably best known to younger fans from the song “Talking Baseball” when they sing about “Willie, Mickey and The Duke.”  Mays, Mantle and Snider made center field the glamour position in American sports.  You’ll never convince my parents, old Dodgers fans, that The Duke wasn’t the best of them.

Second, Frank Buckles.  Who is that, you might ask?  He was the last surviving U.S. serviceman who fought in World War I.  I remember as a kid seeing the World War I vets march on Memorial Day; even saw some Spanish-American War vets too.  World War I is the less well known of the two world wars (some would say that they were part of the same war, with a 15-20 year truce in the middle).  My grandfather fought in that war; he was gassed 12 days before its end.  I’ve tried to learn a bit more about it; the conditions those people fought in were among the most horrible in the annals of human history.  It is hard to believe that no one remains who we can ask about those days.

The Great Midwest and Hoover’s Legacy

I’m spending a weekend in the great midwest, while my wife has a reunion with her high school friends in Chicago.

Whenever I travel I am amazed at all our country has to offer and proud of the role airports play in that. I spent a night in Moline, Illinois at a very nice Hampton Inn right at the Quad City Airport. As I like to do on these trips, I went to a local minor league baseball game. The team is the Quad City River Bandits and they play in Davenport, Iowa. If you EVER get a chance to see a game there you should do it. They play in a place called Modern Woodmen Park, a great old ballpark right on the Mississippi. After the game they treated us to a great fireworks display. Quite something.

At the game I saw Bruce Carter who runs the Quad Cities airport in Moline. Bruce is a leader in our industry, just like his predecessor Kent George who now runs Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Kent is the only living person to have chaired both ACI-NA and AAAE. Bruce was on our board the last three years and is in line to chair AAAE in two years.  The Quad Cities are fortunate to have had such leadership.

The birthplace of President Herbert Hoover in West Branch, Iowa

I am writing this on Saturday while having lunch at a local spot in West Branch, Iowa. In my continuing quest to visit all the presidential gravesites I have come here to pay my respects to Herbert Hoover. Hoover did not respond well to the test of presidential leadership during the Depression, but he was a great man nonetheless. His work to feed millions in Europe after World War I is well documented; there are tens of millions of their children and grandchildren who literally owe their existence to Hoover. President Truman called on the former President to assist with a similar project after World War II. Hoover was an active Secretary of Commerce in the 20’s and many of his initiatives bear fruit today, such as his push for standardization (that you can plug your cell phone charger into the wall of any home or hotel is but one manifestation of the importance of standards).

The memorial grave for President Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry

Hoover had a view of public service, and the place of ego, that is unfortunately seen as old-fashioned. After JFK was assassinated, the 88-year-old former president offered his help to LBJ in any capacity needed, including “office boy.” We could use a bit more of that attitude today.

The Hoover Museum compares quite well with that dedicated to Harry Truman. I strongly recommend a visit if you are in the area.

A Victory for Airports and Passengers, Visiting Virginia, and Remembering a Yankee Legend

There was an important court case decided last week. It didn’t get much attention in the general press, but was pretty big news in the aviation trades. And it was great news for passengers around the country.

You see, in 2008 the US Department of Transportation issued rules on airport rates and charges. The rules clarified that airports can charge a two-part landing fee based on whether or not a flight was coming at a peak time. This makes sense, after all the airlines price their product the same way (as was pointed out in the opinion). Airports must still base their charges on the overall rules set by the government; they can’t just charge whatever they want, whenever they want. But airports can use rates and charges to manage their own airfields and provide incentives to reduce congestion.

This just makes sense, but for some reason the airline industry took the DOT to court over this matter. The arguments were made back in October, but the decision just came out last week. I’m an old soccer player:  if this opinion was a World Cup match it would not have been a 1-nil win, but a 4-nil win. Airports, the DOT – AND common sense – won on all counts. But really, this was not a win for airports so much as it was a win for passengers. And, in the long run, I think a win for airlines too, though they don’t think so right now.

Also, late last week two of our staff and I visited the airports in Newport News, Virginia and in Norfolk, Virginia. These are both well-run, well-managed airports that provide high levels of service to their communities and to their airlines. Both have extensive low fare service and offer beautiful facilities. Both have plans for the future – and leaders in place that can make them happen. It was really great to have a chance to see their work first hand and to spend some time with them. The best part of this job, I think, is the time I get to spend at airports with our members around the country, in Canada, and around the world.

The old Yankee Stadium, circa 1955.

A final note:  When you get to be a certain age, you look back on life and there are certain voices that stick out; voices that serve almost as the narrators of your life. One such voice for me was Bob Sheppard, longtime public address announcer for the Yankees and (football) Giants who died the other day at age 99. I bet I saw several dozen Yankees games in the old Yankee Stadium when I was a kid (I mean the pre-1976 Yankee Stadium, that thing they tore down a year or so ago was NOT the old Yankee Stadium, though I did see some games there too). I know I saw several dozen Giants football games over the years, at Yankee Stadium, the Yale Bowl and Giants Stadium. The constant was Bob Sheppard. I am old enough to have heard him, in person, announce Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. I heard him announce Joe DiMaggio, in person, at several Old Timers Games. I heard him say “pass by (Y.A.) Tittle” and “tackle by (Lawrence) Taylor.” And there are so many other great names in both sports I heard him announce over so many years, it would take me an hour to list them all. It is a voice I will never forget (and he looked a little like my late father-in-law too, which added to the effect for me). Bob Sheppard. RIP.

I AMsterdam

Greetings from Amsterdam! Arrived here from Casablanca Friday night; we’ve had two wonderful days here. Tomorrow I will meet with the chairman of ACI Europe, Ad Rutten. Ad runs Schipol Airport and has done a tremendous job these past six months addressing direct fallout from two very difficult events these past six months:  the Christmas bombing attempt and the volcanic eruption. More on all that tomorrow.

The famous "I amsterdam" letters at the Museumplein.

We’ve never been to Amsterdam before and it is rapidly becoming a favorite. We’ve ridden throughout much of the canal system, stood in the room in which Anne Frank hid from the Nazis for several years, seen Rembrandt‘s works including “Night Watch,” Vermeer‘s unbelievable rendering of the “The Milkmaid,” several hundred Van Gogh paintings, and taken the Heineken Experience tour. We’ve eaten great traditional Dutch food, seen beautiful architecture and gorgeous flowers. And we’ve only scratched the surface.

Amsterdam’s “Brouwerij ‘t Ij” brewery, which stands beside an enormous, classic Dutch windmill.

One of the neat things about this place is that it attracts people from all over the world. We’ve ridden boats with people from Bosnia, Canada, Australia and New Jersey. We attended mass today in a beautiful little church with as diverse a congregation as you would ever see (including a kid in a Dodgers t-shirt).

Probably the only other place I see such diversity is back home (students from more than 80 countries attend the high school my kids went to, TC Williams in Alexandria). Maybe that’s another reason I like this place so much and feel so comfortable here.

Thoughts From Marrakech

Just completed an excellent meeting in Marrakech with my colleagues (some by phone). We are committed to working together to improve airport performance and customer service around the world and we have more specific ideas on how to do so. We have also strengthened our ability to serve as the officially accredited voice of airports in important international organizations.

While in Marrakech we had the chance to see some of the city. We visited the famous souk, where you can buy almost anything. We saw story tellers, snake charmers and others. Saw a fellow carve a small charm out of a block of wood, with his feet!

Also saw the hotel Winston Churchill used to stay in when he came to Marrakech to paint and the gardens that include a monument to Yves St. Laurent, who had a house in Marrakech.

Greg and Angela Gittens, ACI Director General, and Ali Tounsi, General Secretary of ACI Africa

Rode back to Casablanca by car yesterday with Ali Tounsi (ACI Africa). It is incredible to see the different topography as you go from the desert to the more lush coastal area and finally to the bustling city of Casablanca.

Like everywhere, Morocco has lots of American influences:  McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Yankees caps, and even a guy at the Marrakech souk in a John Whetteland Texas Rangers jersey T-shirt. I also just saw a Washington Nationals cap! Strasburg-mania even extends to Casablanca!

One thing occurred to me while going through immigration in both Amsterdam and, especially, Casablanca, immigration can be an intimidating experience, even for a native citizen. For a non-citizen, it is fraught with uncertainty. We need to do a better job in the process of welcoming foreign visitors to our shores, and we shouldn’t get too upset if the process overseas bothers us until we get our own act together.

A final note: we dropped Angela Gittens, Director General of ACI World, at the Marrakech Airport yesterday before driving back to Casablanca. Right before leaving I saw the new Sex and the City movie. While much of it was set in Abu Dhabi, actual filming occurred in Morocco. The scene in the movie where they arrive at the airport was actually shot, it appears, in front of the Marrakech airport.