Edna is on edge. Edna, if you don’t recognise her, is a character the airlines created to denounce ‘big wigs’ in their corporate jets; made up to look like a “big hair” lady of the 1960s, Edna complains that the world is unfair, unfair to her and to the big airlines. But Edna, along with her pal, Air Transport Association chief Jim May, seen here, have taken a drubbing these last few weeks. This week, the latest airline delay numbers came out, and it was (no news here) bad, bad news. August performance was the second worst on record. Then the other day they lost out on a key congressional vote on air-traffic control fees and charges, beaten back by congressional and public sentiment (which are after all supposed to be linked) that the airlines really don’t deserve a break after the lousy summer they’d given travellers; a few days later, the DoT called in the airlines and read them the riot act about angry flyers.
Then the DoT secretary, Mary Peters, went over to see the president (you remember him, the little guy with ears; he’s on the left and she’s on the right); Bush had words for the airlines: ‘You guys did a lousy job and even I’ve heard about it’ seems to be the gist of it. We quote from Mr. Bush: “We’ve been having a discussion about the fact that a lot of our air travellers are not only inconvenienced, they’re – in some cases they’re just not being treated fairly. And there’s a lot of anger amongst our citizens about the fact that, you know, they’re just not being treated right.”
When there is anger amongst the citizens, it is time for politicians to be wary. As one very conservative presidential candidate used to say, beware of the angry peasants carrying pitchforks. Bush told Peters, who succeeded Norm Mineta at Transportation, that she had the full force of the feds to shake things up. The airlines would have to reduce over-scheduling at the New York City and other airports or the feds will. This could well include caps or flight rationing, something Edna’s friends at the Air Transport Association don’t like. Bush (MBA, Harvard Business School) also endorsed something that thinkers, talking heads and others talk about a lot, and that’s congestion pricing, or the sale or auction of landing rights. This is something that airlines do and don’t like; they like market solutions but they fear bidding wars on rights that have always been free. But importantly the fact that the problem has gained the attention of this or indeed of any president is very big news.