How John McCain Supported America West and Ultimately Helped Put Doug Parker in Charge at American

Senator John McCain has been getting tributes from across the country and around the world since he passed away. Many admire his decision to remain in Vietnamese captivity rather than accept an early release that was offered to him as the son of an Admiral. Others highlight his civility during the 2008 Presidential campaign when he refused to go along with supporters impugning the character of his rival, then-Senator Obama.

There are things to agree with and disagree with in the man’s record. He was one of the more fervent hawks in Congress. Since he knew first-hand some of the horrors of war I was often surprised by his support for it. In the single most important decision a presidential contender can make — whom to select as vice president — he chose Sarah Palin.

Immediately following a passing people are much more forgiving of the things they disagree with. So I certainly understand a desire not to criticize him.

However Dawn Gilbertson has a piece in USA Today about McCain’s role in obtaining exemptions from the perimeter rule at Washington National airport which benefited what was then America West, and One Mile at a Time cites his ‘honor’ and ‘principle’ in refusing to take the new Phoenix flight that enabled himself.

  • Flights over 1250 miles aren’t permitted at Washington National airport
  • However there are now exceptions granted by law, championed by Senator McCain, and granted by the Department of Transportation
  • The idea of the perimeter rule was to protect Washington Dulles airport, preserving the viability of long haul flights there. However as I explained in 2003,

    The originally stated purpose of the 1250 mile limit, or “perimeter rule,” was to allow Washington-Dulles airport to build itself up as a base for long-haul flights. Ironically, by limiting the distance of flights at the close-in airport, National got more short flights and Dulles did not. So there wasn’t enough feeder traffic for long-haul flights, and the development of Dulles as a hub was hampered for a decade. The perimeter rule forced Dulles to more or less rely on the DC market for its flights instead of supplementing that traffic with connecting traffic.

Even if the perimeter rule made sense in 1966 when it was first adopted (at the time the limit was 650 miles), there’s no reason for 49 USC §49109 any longer. However United wants to prevent more convenient competition for its Washington Dulles hub, so they lobby to keep it.

Senator McCain wanted to eliminate the perimeter rule, but maintained that if that wasn’t politically feasible he wanted airlines based outside the 1250 mile perimeter to have access to Washington National airport. This meant America West getting a Phoenix – Washington National non-stop and ultimately National – Las Vegas as well (they operated a Vegas hub).

At the time these flights were granted there was non-serious criticism that McCain was pushing for them so he could fly non-stop home from the close-in airport to DC where he had dedicated free parking.

  • He sought a special favor for a home state company.
  • He didn’t mind accusations of cronyism, but couldn’t abide the claim that he was doing something for his own personal benefit so for years he refused to take the new non-stop flight to Phoenix.
  • Eventually he starting taking the flight years later after he did so once and no one criticized him for it.

Today there are exemptions which allow flights from National airport to Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Juan, and Seattle.

McCain also supported the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act which handed out airline subsidies after 9/11 to America West Airlines, US Airways, American Trans Air, Aloha Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Evergreen International Airlines, and World Airways.

Here’s Doug Parker asking the government for a bailout. He got $380 million in federal loan guarantees. If that hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t have taken over US Airways and used that as a platform to take over American Airlines.

Shortly after Senator McCain’s passing, American Airlines — whose top leaders worked at America West — put out a statement in which Parker thanks McCain for the subsidies after 9/11,

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. God Bless John McCain for his service to the country and our state, and condemn cowards like J.C.

  2. I disagreed with McCain on a lot of issues. And he was far from a perfect man, as he himself admitted. But this out-pouring of hate by JC and his ilk is disturbing and shows an incredible mindedness. It really says more about JC then it does about John McCain.

  3. Well, at the time Doug Parker was running Phoenix-based America West Airlines (one of Arizona’s most important companies) and John McCain was the senior senator from Arizona. Had he NOT helped his local constituent with these issues, he would have been a TERRIBLE senator. And I think most people would now agree that relaxing the DCA perimeter rules and securing financing for AWA after the surprise terrorist attack (a deal which saved tens of thousands of jobs, and which the Feds later made a boatload of money on) were good public policy decisions.

    It is interesting that McCain refused to take that DCA-PHX flight for several years to avoid any appearance of impropriety. Kind of a shame, because if there was anyone who truly NEEDED that flight, it would have been McCain. But it does make me think a little more highly of McCain’s character.

  4. People have short memories. There was some logic to the perimeter rule due to necessity of obtaining critical mass for IAD & BWI (and in NYC for JFK & EWR) because a single small airport – LGA and DCA – simply could not handle all of the air traffic for those large metro areas. A similar perimeter rule might help to ease ATC delays at SFO and LAX.
    That being said, there is some value to letting the market decide (through pricing of takeoff/landing slots, and ultimately fares) where flights should go, as opposed to government rules limiting competition. Perhaps the better policy would be to price slots in a way that incentivizes airlines to use the alternative airports rather than using a harsh perimeter rule.
    Personally I am thankful that McCain helped to scrap the rule as I have personally flown nonstop SFO-DCA for the same price as IAD, and the former is far more convenient.

  5. * He sought a special favor for a home state company.
    * He didn’t mind accusations of cronyism, but couldn’t abide the claim that he was doing something for his own personal benefit so for years he refused to take the new non-stop flight to Phoenix.

    One is something Senators do every day – almost part of the job description.
    One most certainly is not.

  6. Gary, I’m kind of surprised that you are obsessing over something as irrelevant as the perimeter rule when remembering John McCain. Sure, as a Democrat I had major political differences with him as well but given what he has done for the US and now that he has passed just please lay off… I think we have much bigger fish to fry than John McCain if we’re talking about corruption in the US right now.

  7. @Matt – the perimeter rule isn’t the number one thing to remember about McCain, but there was a USA Today piece on McCain and the perimeter rule yesterday that got quite a bit of play where I felt some additional context made sense.

  8. The war hero grew up in poverty. He joined the army was caught surrounded by Chinese in the Korean war. He led 40 men to safety through the mountains and won a Purple heart and a Bronze Star for Valor. True American hero. Was that John McCain or John Kerry? No it was Charlie Rangel. If I was in battle, I would gladly follow Charlie Rangel, although I disagree with his politics. I would not follow either McCain or Kerry, due to concerns about their competence in a military situation. The goal in war is to survive with honor.

    Think about this in Terminator terms. Suppose one was being chased by a Terminator, there were three cars, one has McCain, one had Kerry, and one had Rangel and they all were saying, “Do you want to live?” I would chose the Rangel car every time, since he would try to save me. Kerry would probable side with the Terminator (like he did with every communist American hating country during his Senate career) and turn me over. McCain would most likely hot dog it around the first corner, crashing into the building leaving me half dead, and the Terminator would finish me off a few minutes later.

    Now if Sarah Palin, who likes to hunt, was there, she would most like show up Alaskan style with a bear hunting gun, hopefully, it would kill a Terminator. At least it would be a fight. In a survival situation, I would choose Palin over Hillary 100%/no 1,000% of the time. To quote Robert Burns, great Scottish poet, “That Man to Man, the world o’er, Shall brothers be for a’ that.” Palin and Rangel are men, not sure about the others.

    More seriously, as a constitutional small government conservative, I have never agreed with McCain’s politics. It seems like every single day, McCain would wake up, get dressed, brush his teeth, and call conference to trash the conservative “hobbits” or “crazies” as he famously called people of my conservative bent. It seems like McCain pretended to be conservative for the sole purpose calling out conservatives.

    Of course, he was a two face conservative. In his last senate election, he ran advertisements “Complete The Danged Fence”. The second he was elected, he re-emerged as amnesty McCain.

    Further, one would think that given McCain’s experience, he would strongly support efforts to obtain information about MIA in Vietnam after the war. McCain’s (along with Kerry) had a key role in shutting down MIA POW hearings in the Senate.

    At the end of the day, why should any conservative celebrate McCain, since he has been calling conservatives every name in the book. Why should conservative celebrate one of their fiercest disrespectful enemies? Call a spade a spade, McCain was no friend to the conservative movement, in life or death.

    At the end of the day, I agree with J.C.

  9. @Gary

    Sure, I get that this is a travel blog and this small detail regarding McCain’s political life relates to Airlines and travel, but since he just passed away it would be great if you don’t criticize him on something as irrelavent as this is.

  10. @Other Just Saying

    I’m stunned. So because McCain disagreed with the almost fasisct neo-conservativsm the Republican Party has embraced by making DT president, he is worthless to the party? He was a staunch believer in the conservative fiscal model and the republican manifesto but merely disagreed with the far-right wing of the party that became increasingly powerful throughout his career. Shocking.

  11. @Matt. Seriously, are you all there? (1) “Fascists” are socialists that want government control over the economy. Conservatives believe in free markets, ie, not government. People like you will trade your freedom in a second for the good of the people. (2) “Neo-conservatives” and “constitutional conservatives” are two different groups of people. Duh. (3) Conservative fiscal model, you mean as opposed to communism, socialism, or Robert Reich command and control economy. (4) Republican manifesto. So who wrote this? Oh, you lefties want to cobble something together with incoherent nonsense. People on the right have independent brains, not like lefties that need a manifesto. (5) I did not mention Trump at all. Did you make it past 2nd grade reading. Every comment I made predates Trump by many years. (6) In any case, since you are a useful idiot, if a Terminator is chasing you, choose Kerry, because he won 3 purple hearts. When he sells you out, because he agrees with the Terminator, you can feel good that you made the moral choice.

  12. Some things that McCain did, that I did not like, which have nothing to do with Trump.
    –In the 1990s, McCain help shut down MIA investigate in Vietnam
    –In 1997, McCain tried to ban mixed martial arts.
    –In 2001, McCain stopped the Bush Tax cuts from being permanent which allowed BO to let them expire.
    –From 2004 to 2006, McCain was one of the so called Gang of 14 that prevented Estrada, Pickering, and Kuhn from being considered on the Supreme Court.
    –In 2010, McCain was involved regulating certain dietary substances.
    –In 2013, McCain strongly supported President Mohamed Morsi, despite the fact that Morsi was driving Coptic Christians from the country and killing Jews.

  13. People, don’t get upset with JC. She’s had a bad life. We must empathise with her.

  14. @747never: Yes, Jethro, life has been a challenge. Every time we turn around there is yet another GoFundMe where you are trying to raise bail money. Countless letters and interviews with your various parole officers. Your incessant begging for contributions to your nonce wing inmate fund. And how, Jethro, do you repay our kindness? By appearing on TV yet again caught with more kiddie porn in FBI stings.

    Even your extra chromosome is ashamed of you.

  15. JC keeps transferring her issues onto others. Try harder JC. Take your meds, be nice to your mum. Oh right. JC is a Trumpette. So you’re only nice to those who give you money.

  16. @747always: It’s public knowledge you are on parole, Jethro. Don’t try to hide it. Own up to your issues. Maybe some day the state will remove you from the sexual predator database and you don’t have to worry about not living near schools.

    Nice to see Greg donated to your GoFundMe.

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