Live from the National Association of Business Travelers convention here in Boston, I thought you'd find this interesting. Peter Greenberg, NBC Today Show travel editor, did a live on stage interview with Bob Crandall, former CEO of American, and Gordon Bethune, former CEO of Continental. They got a lot of laughs (hey, they should take this show on the road). But airline travel today is no laughing matter, both men agreed. And this is what they told the NBTA membership, in no particular order:

  • 1. The air traffic control system in this country is broken and our politicians have  little or no interest in fixing it. We need to invest billions to modernize it.
  • 2. We are to blame however for not calling, writing and otherwise nagging them to fix it.
  • 3. An airline bill of rights is a bad idea, because the same government that made a mess of the air traffic problem would also screw up a bill of rights.
  • 4. Although both men are anti-regulation, they admit that we do need to reduce the number of take offs and landings per hour at major airports until we can fix the air traffic system, which will take years. "You can't put 120 pieces of metal an hour on a runway built to handle 80," says Mr. Crandall.  That's the only feasible short term solution to reducing delays.
  • 5. Mr. Crandall does believe that airlines should be held accountable for horrendous (as in 5 hour) runway imprisonments. But he didn't say what the penalties should be.
  • 6. All these new airlines (Skybus, EOS, Virgin America) are doomed to failure. These guys probably own stock in their former carriers though. Mr. Bethune: "As P.T. Barnum said, there's a sucker born every minute."
  • 7. The Airbus 380 double decker super jumbo is doomed to failure. Airline passengers want to fly nonstop point to point on smaller planes like the new Boeing 787, rather than connecting, and will not enjoy waiting in line with 600 other passengers to board, disembark, and go through customs. No US airline will ever by the A380.
  • 8. Mr. Crandall opined that airline alliances (Star Alliance, Oneworld, Skyteam) have been a disaster for the US airline industry, especially the big carriers that fly internationally. Mr. Bethune thought otherwise.
  • 9. You'd have to be a fool to own airline stocks.

It was a refreshing exchange of what seemed to be honest opinions. This is what happens when airline CEO's are unedited.

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