Alfred Kahn's Legacy: Cheap Flights If you've spent time stuck in an airport this holiday season, but got a cheap ticket, you may have Alfred Kahn to thank -- or blame. The noted economist, who died Monday, presided over the deregulation of the airline industry.
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Alfred Kahn's Legacy: Cheap Flights

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Alfred Kahn's Legacy: Cheap Flights

Alfred Kahn's Legacy: Cheap Flights

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This morning we want to note the passing of economist Alfred Kahn. Kahn died in Ithaca, New York Monday. He was 93. Kahn taught economics at Cornell University for more than 60 years. But it was his work during a brief interlude in the Carter administration for which he may be remembered by most Americans.

If you're traveling this holiday season on a cheap ticket but are less than thrilled by the level of service, you can thank or blame Alfred Kahn.

NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON: I'm going to play you a clip that economists and airline industry watchers say is a direct legacy of Alfred Kahn.

(Soundbite of bell)

Unidentified Announcer: You are now free to move about the country.

GLINTON: Yup, the cheap plane ticket and the discount airline. Alfred Kahn was former chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board. He presided over the deregulation of the airline industry during the Carter administration. That was the dismantling of a system which regulated where airlines could fly, and how much they could charge.

Mr. ALFRED KAHN (Economist; Former Chairman, Civil Aeronautics Board): I am very happy about the intensity of competition in the industry.

GLINTON: That's Kahn from a 1986 NPR interview. Kahn said then and would continue to say that competition had one effect - empowering the consumer.

KAHN: Uniform low fares to all comers, no restrictions, no advanced purchases, no staying over a weekend, has been a very powerful influence in bringing travelers the benefits of price competition.

Mr. RICHARD ABOULAFIA (Vice President, Analysis, The Teal Group): It's just amazing that 30-something years ago we had an airline industry that was basically socialistic.

GLINTON: Richard Aboulafia is an aviation analyst. He's says Kahn's influence was felt far beyond the airline industry.

Mr. ABOULAFIA: You know, a lot of people regard Reagan as the architect of deregulation for so many segments of the economy. Yet in terms of a meaningful transformation, it happened under President Carter with Kahn's actions.

GLINTON: Those actions brought cheap travel to millions. The sacrifice, comfort. That was something Kahn freely admitted. But for Kahn, flying five hours with only a tiny bag of peanuts was better than not flying at all.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Washington.

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