WASHINGTON: The airline industry is backing its lobbying efforts for government aid with a PR offensive that will culminate in a joint employee fly-in for Senate hearings on the matter, tentatively scheduled to take place this week.
The push, being coordinated by industry trade group the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), has seen a parade of airline CEOs appear on talk shows, in the business pages, and before Congress to demand that the government reimburse their companies for increased security costs.
Wary of appearing as undeserving "corporate welfare" cases at a time when consumer ire with airlines is high, the airlines seek to convince travelers and opinion leaders alike that the industry is unfairly being made to bear the fiscal burden of increased security.
"It's an education process," said Catherine Stengel, GM of media relations at Delta. "This is not a bailout. We don't want our customers to think we're trying to make them help our bottom line."
Delta chairman and CEO Leo Mullin, like many of his peers, has appeared on CNBC, C-Span and the Today show in recent days, and has met with industry reporters for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today.
Meanwhile, chief executive Don Carty of AMR, parent company of American Airlines, told reporters and securities analysts Wednesday that the industry faces collapse without further government intervention, particularly if a war with Iraq were to break out. "I don't think having the whole industry in Chapter 11 is something the country can tolerate," said Carty.
The ATA argues that airlines have borne a much higher percentage of security costs since the federal takeover of airport security, and wants its members to be compensated.
Bedeviled by the downturn in travel since last year's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, airlines have cut jobs and capacity sharply.
But sluggish demand, coupled with skyrocketing insurance costs and rising fuel prices, have pushed US Airways into bankruptcy proceedings, with United Airlines warning it could file for protection later this year.