Free To Move About The Country

by Conor Friedersdorf

The tag line may belong to Southwest Airlines, but a large part of the credit is owed to a deceased Cornell University professor:

ROCHESTER, N.Y. Alfred E. Kahn, who presided over the historic deregulation of the airline industry during the Carter administration, paving the way for JetBlue and other low-cost carriers, died Monday. He was 93. A leading scholar on public-utility deregulation, Kahn led the move to deregulate U.S. airlines as chief of the now-defunct Civil Aeronautics Board in 1977-78. The board had to give its approval before airlines could fly specific routes or change fares.

By letting airlines instead of the government decide routes and fares, Kahn is credited above anyone else with enabling a dramatic drop in airline fares and a boom in air travel over the last 30 years. Deregulation opened the way for such carriers as People Express and JetBlue, and allowed low-cost Southwest Airlines which had up until then operated only within Texas, outside of CAB's reach to expand nationwide. But the move also contributed over the years to the death of such storied names as Pan American and the erosion of inflight amenities.

It's an impressive legacy. May he rest in peace.