When I was in college, I attended seminars by an artist-in-residence named Edwin Schlossberg. He would eventually become known as Caroline Kennedy's husband, but at the time, he was getting attention among academics for his book "Einstein and Beckett," a transcript of an imaginary conversation among himself, Albert Einstein and the absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett, who penned "Waiting for Godot."
I can't say I understood all the ideas bouncing among Beckett, Einstein and Schlossberg in his made-up dialogue, but I liked the concept of exploring topics by creating conversations that never occurred.
Over the last few weeks, we've heard many monologues from people proposing solutions to our myriad aviation crises. Bob Crandall, former chairman of American Airlines, suggested that reregulating some aspects of the airline industry wouldn't be a bad idea. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times blaming the airlines for congestion problems. Airline CEOs formed a multi-industry coalition to lobby against "excessive" speculation they say runs up the price of oil. And Crandall joined Business Travel Coalition chief Kevin Mitchell to call for a special session of Congress to address energy issues.
I began daydreaming about a conversation among aviation activists and myself.
In Schlossberg's book, every sentence is made up. I, however, am not as clever as he, so in my imaginary dialogue I will use actual quotes. Before I'm accused of taking quotes out of context, I want to make one thing clear: I am taking quotes out of context.
These words were first spoken (or written) to address different topics over the course of decades and might have no bearing on the speaker's actual position today. But all were uttered or penned by the person to whom they're attributed.
Mary Peters: "High oil prices present the aviation industry with one of its greatest challenges in recent memory."
Bob Crandall (nodding): "If the Wright Brothers were alive today, Orville would have to lay off Wilbur."
Me: "What are you doing to cope?"
Northwest Airlines CEO Doug Steenland: "We have acted swiftly to reduce capacity, preserve liquidity, aggressively manage our costs and grow revenue through fare actions and additional fees and charges."
Peters: "I greatly admire the amazing achievements made by the airline industry in the United States. Despite some very difficult economic headwinds, today we have the most diverse flying public in the world, thanks to the airlines and deregulation."
Crandall (aside to Steenland): "I didn't deal well with politicians. I tend to tell people that when they are full of crap that they are full of crap." (Loudly, to everyone) "The failure of our national leaders to do realistic energy and transportation planning is by any measure the primary problem."
Peters (looking daggers at Crandall): "In the 1970s, many of the industry's lobbyists took the position being espoused today --that basic economic principles could not be applied to commercial aviation, that competition would not work and that consumers would be harmed if airlines were given the freedom to design their own networks and to set prices based on market forces. The lobbyists were wrong then. They are wrong today."
Crandall (shrugging): "We had three good years in a row."
Me: "Mr. Crandall was a loud opponent of deregulation before 1978, and today he says a bit of reregulation might be in order. Anyone else support regulation?"
Air Transport Association President James May: "Let me be loud and clear: What isn't needed is reregulation."
Continental CEO Lawrence Kellner: "You're not going to have regulation like you had pre-1978, but I do think we need to look at how we make the structure better."
Peters: "When lobbyists argue that basic economic principles do not apply to the industry they represent, a red flag should go up. ... In our economy, prices work not only to balance supply and demand but also to add capacity where we need it."
Crandall: "That's about as likely as me becoming an astronaut at age 72."
Peters: "Repeated attempts to avoid economic reality by aviation special interests have produced an increasingly unreliable aviation system."
Crandall: "We are faced with two disastrous alternatives: unacceptably high costs or cessation of operations."
Me: "Mr. Crandall, would your interest in airport congestion and energy policy have anything to do with your position as CEO of Pogo Jet, the very light jet company that hopes to offer private air service in 2009?"
Crandall (with an enigmatic smile): "I'm just a pissed-off U.S. citizen."
Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected].