May 1, 1998 -- Do you think this is blunt enough, axiomatic enough, and visceral enough to get the airlines' attention: Every business traveler and federal regulator on the planet should Just Say No to any additional domestic code-sharing between the major carriers.
Last week's announcement of a détente between American Airlines and US Airways--followed by the revelation that United and Delta are fumbling toward a deal--comes atop the plan to fuse together Northwest, Continental and America West. These proposed alliances have drawn a broad and provocative line in the sand of commercial aviation.
As a nation, we're either going to allow seven carriers to gang up into three cartels or we are going to Just Say No. We're either going to give the Gang of Seven the right to dictate the nation's airfares and crush any remaining independent carriers or we are going to Just Say No.
It is us versus them. It is the people and government of the United States versus the Gang of Seven. We're either going to surrender to them or rise up, slap them upside their collective heads and send them whimpering and chastened to their respective hubs.
If we just say no to the Gang of Seven, there is still a chance we can have a fair, competitive and cost-effective air-transportation system in the United States. But if we permit the Gang of Seven to become the hydra-headed American Aeroflot, we might as well hand over our weekly paychecks and rewrite the Bill of Rights to allow King Leo Mullin of Delta and The Emperor Dasburg of Northwest to commandeer our homes and use them as Imperial billets for roving bands of Royal Yield Managers.
Do you get what I'm saying here? If you do nothing and say nothing, if you allow the dozing dolts at the departments of Justice and Transportation to permit the Gang of Seven to cross this line in the sand, we are toast. In an environment where a seven-day advance purchase ticket between New York and Los Angeles already costs $1,178--or about three times the $398 price of a New York-London roundtrip--allowing the Gang of Seven to share codes, routes and frequent-flyer programs is societal suicide.
Now that I've finished waxing outrageous--come on, admit it, you smiled at the image of The Emperor Dasburg and the roving bands of Royal Yield Managers--let me tell you what's at stake. No, let me do better than that. Let me tell you what Bob Crandall thinks.
Crandall, of course, is the outgoing chief executive of American Airlines and one of the Gang of Seven. He is also, at least in the context of the flim-flam artists who run the major airlines, an honest man.
When asked last week by the Chicago Tribune about these deals between the mega-carriers, Crandall couldn't help but tell the truth. The alliances would mean "the companies would be better off," but consumers would only get "some incremental benefits."
And while insisting that he had no choice but to pursue alliances for American Airlines "if alliances are permitted," he restated his long-held and often-stated true feelings: Code-shares and other deals between airlines are anticompetitive and monopolistic.
What more do you need to hear? Crandall, the American citizen, is telling you that Crandall, the American Airlines executive, is doing deals that are creating monopolies and extinguishing competition.
Can't you hear his cry for help? Stop us, Crandall begs, before we code-share again.
So how do we save ourselves from the Gang of Seven? Here are a few practical steps:
1) Get on the horn to your Congressperson and Senator and tell them to Just Say No. Tell them to jawbone Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and Attorney General Janet Reno, the appropriate federal regulators.
2) Get on the horn directly to Slater. Tell them in no uncertain terms to Just Say No.
3) Put your money and your frequent-flyer miles where your mouth is. Write to the Gang of Seven and tell them you will not buy a ticket on any routes where they share codes. Then tell them you will claim your miles for free tickets on their code-share partners. Denying them revenue on code-share routes while "burning" your miles on the code-share routes will devastate the revenue streams of the alliances.
And here's a thought I haven't heard anyone voice out loud yet: How about Bob Crandall for Secretary of Transportation?
He's smart. He's tough. He knows the games airlines play because he invented a lot of them (and once got a federal slap on the wrist for attempting to fix prices). After he leaves American and takes his new sailboat for a cruise, he'll be rested and available. And if he's begging us to Just Say No while he's a card-carrying member of the Gang of Seven, imagine what he'd do if he became the nation's Number One airline regulator.
Remember: Just Say No--and Vote for Bob.This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.