Airline executives met with President Trump yesterday. You can read the sometimes humorous pool report here. Rather than focusing on the contentious travel ban, airline executives and the new Trump administration sought to find common ground.
United CEO Oscar Munoz issued the following statement after the meeting–
Our industry is joined by a common purpose of connecting people and communities. As one of this country’s largest employers, I was honored to represent our nearly 90,000 aviation professionals at United Airlines at this morning’s meeting. We share the president’s passion for the tremendous opportunity this country has and his commitment to protecting and creating American jobs. We look forward to working together with the President on the many initiatives and issues that will make America better and the U.S. aviation industry the best in the world. This includes modernizing our aviation infrastructure and cutting the red tape that gets in the way of our industry’s ability to deliver the best experience for our employees and customers.
During the meeting, Trump pummeled America’s aging air traffic control system:
“I hear we’re spending billions and billions of dollars, it’s a system that’s totally out of whack.” POTUS said of the air traffic control system.
POTUS inquired as to why airline corporations had allowed the government to invest in a faulty system. Southwest informed POTUS that the airlines are not “in control” of those decisions.
POTUS said that the system could potentially work better if FAA was run by a pilot because it is not currently, as a meeting attendee confirmed for him.
One positive development may be that Trump does give airlines a more vocal voice at the table in terms of modernizing more efficiently the nation’s air traffic control system.
Is privatization the answer? That’s what the airline executives called for and Trump seemed in agreement. I am not sure that is wise, but am open to exploring that option. The gridlock must be broken: the congestion problem in New York, for example, is unnecessary.
Trump and airline executives also expressed a shared goal for airport modernization, but the specifics of how to fund it were not discussed. Without money, we run into a Dulles problem.
Two Reason Why I Am Alarmed
Munoz stated, “We share the president’s passion for…protecting and creating American jobs.” That is code for attacking the Gulf Carriers. The President’s answer was somewhat reassuring–
I know you’re under pressure from a lot of foreign elements and foreign carriers. I’ve been hearing that a little bit. At the same time, we want to make life good for them also. They come with big investments. In many cases investments are made by their governments, but they are still big investments.
If he sticks to this line of thinking, I am fine with it — the Gulf carriers provide competition for both quality and price, leading to a better consumer experience. But that response doesn’t really fit in the populist “America First” mold, at least as previously articulated by Trump.
Second, Munoz stated that he is in agreement with Trump over “cutting the red tape that gets in the way of our industry’s ability to deliver the best experience for our employees and customers.” I interpret that to mean rolling back consumer protections for tarmac delays, fee disclosure, and post-purchase price increases. Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but airlines have decried these regulations as more harmful to consumers than helpful. I vehemently disagree.
Elaine Chao, the Labor Secretary under George W. Bush, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and current Transportation Secretary may take the Transportation Department in a very different direction than her predecessor. The DOT will almost assuredly become more “pro-business” but to what extent remains to be seen…it again plays into the brand of populism Trump will be pursuing. I trust that helpful consumer protections will not be rolled back.
Oscar Munoz certainly played nice, especially after ripping Trump days earlier. While his statement was predictable, hopefully the joint White House – airline focus can be on airport and air traffic infrastructure instead of fighting Gulf Carriers and cutting helpful red tape.