ATW Editor's Blog

Senator John McCain

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Heroes are born, idols are made, they say. Senator John McCain had no time for idolism, but he was a hero in the truest sense because of his actions and values.

Senator McCain died at the weekend. Among the many tributes that have been paid from around the world, American Airlines posted a statement on its site (a full copy is below), in which American chairman and CEO Doug Parker said “As a former Navy pilot and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Senator McCain had great respect for the United States commercial aviation industry and the hard-working professionals who serve within it. We are extremely grateful for the work Senator McCain did on behalf of our team members, most notably in the aftermath of 9/11, both for American Airlines and a predecessor airline, America West. American would not be what it is today without the principled support of Senator McCain and our 130,000 team members are forever grateful.”

Parker also notes that the Senator was a friend, and that his son, Doug McCain, is a captain with American Airlines.

While his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam forever changed and shaped the young John McCain, it was as a US Senator that his stature was confirmed. As chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee, which also oversees transportation, Senator McCain was an imposing presence. He could show irritation, even flashes of temper. He did not suffer fools or the unprepared, and he grilled those giving testimony. But he was always prepared and well informed on the subject at hand. He listened intently to testimonies. He knew the Senate was a theater and he played up to that, but under his leadership, it was a dignified court and all sides were granted a fair hearing.

I covered many of those Commerce Senate hearings in the 1990s. Among the big air transportation issues of the day was whether to grant American Airlines and British Airways an immunized alliance. US Airways (this was well before the merger of American and US Airways) and Virgin Atlantic were among those opposing the alliance. Virgin had “No Way, BA/AA” painted on the tails of its aircraft. Big industry names—AA CEO Bob Crandall, US Airways CEO Stephen Wolf, Virgin founder and boss Richard Branson—knew to be deferential to the Senator as they explained their positions. But BA CEO Bob Ayling, perhaps believing a UK citizen was not under the same obligations to give testimony at a US hearing, failed to show for one of the BA/AA hearings. Senator McCain was furious. When Ayling turned up for a following hearing, he was greeted by the chairman with a pointed “thank you for showing up this time Mr. Ayling.”

One-on-one, Senator McCain was gracious and generous. He would give time to reporters after hearings. He was funny. I met him once in his Phoenix office for an interview for Airline Business, the magazine I then worked for. There were no aides or PR staff; he just sat in his office and answered all questions fully. He was very knowledgeable not just on the US airline industry, but also the global airline industry and how it was changing. He was genuinely interested in the industry and seemed to enjoy learning about it and potentially shaping it.

Senator McCain was a hero, in part, of course, because of his war experience. But he took the fighter spirit and humanization he learned in the hardest possible way and applied it to his civil leadership. That’s a hero made.

Karen Walker karen.walker@informa.com

 

Here is the full American Airlines statement:

“FORT WORTH, Texas – American Airlines expresses its condolences to the McCain family and all Americans on the passing of Senator John McCain.

“Senator John McCain was a true American hero,” said American’s Chairman and CEO Doug Parker. “He dedicated his life to serving his country and to just causes larger than himself. He fought for the American people and American values with unwavering courage, integrity and honor.

“As a former Navy pilot and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Senator McCain had great respect for the United States commercial aviation industry and the hard-working professionals who serve within it. We are extremely grateful for the work Senator McCain did on behalf of our team members, most notably in the aftermath of 9/11, both for American Airlines and a predecessor airline, America West. American would not be what it is today without the principled support of Senator McCain and our 130,000 team members are forever grateful.

“On a personal note, Senator McCain became a friend over the years. I always enjoyed seeing him in Washington or at Phoenix Suns games. He had a great sense of humor and a passion for doing what was right. He was and is a role model for me and anyone who ever spent time with him.

“Senator McCain will be sorely missed but his impact lives on. We will not forget his shining example of patriotism based on the ideals of freedom and equality for all and global leadership by the United States in support of those ideals.

“We, like all Americans, mourn the loss of Senator McCain and extend our condolences to the entire McCain family, including John’s son, American Airlines Captain Doug McCain.”

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