The Wright Way to Mess With American?

Like me, you're probably burned out on Wright Amendment talk, which will likely last so long we'll be able to beam to New York City Star Trek-style from the comfort of our own homes. But the contstant noise coming from both Southwest Airlines and American Airlines has produced one totally amusing rumor that made its way across my desk: On May 3, the American-funded "grassroots" anti-Wright group Stop-and-Think held a press conference at Weichsel Park, which is behind Thomas Rusk Middle School on Inwood Road near Maple Avenue, to unveil its findings about the noise levels Southwest is producing at Love Field. Well, according to some folks who have my e-mail address, Southwest found out about the press conference and had Air Traffic Control at the airport switch Southwest's flights from Love's east runway to its west runway during the half-hour presentation--which was conducted, from all accounts, in relative silence. Genius, right?

Well, Southwest's PR man, Ed Stewart, says in his booming, cheerful disc-jockey voice that it's nothing more than a rumor--claims it never happened, because Southwest usually flies from the west runway to begin with, he says. It's the one closest to Southwest's headquarters, after all.

"Pick out any day, and most of the flights will be closest to the west runaway—always have been, and it's a matter of policy," he says. "Sometimes you may not be able to get the west runaway because of opertions, but it's always quiet over there. That's the beauty of it: I have yet to hear one factual statement from [Stop-and-Think]. Just give me half a fact. I'm just tickled by it. Most of the flights I see leaving and coming will be from the west runaway. Just pick any day. It's so easy to do. I know they went out there and went to Radio Shack and got the three-dollar noise meters and were disappointed."

Turns out American execs have heard the rumor too: Says Tim Wagner, the airline's spokesman, "we would hope that Southwest would not stoop to that level. It's just not appropriate for one airline to manipulate the air traffic control system for its own political ends. Sometimes it takes a lot of self-control to just sigh and turn down a counter-strategy that crosses the line."

If loving Wright is wrong, I don't wanna be...uh...right? Still working that part out, but I hope Dallas and Fort Worth never solve this thing. It's just starting to get good. And the fact is, Southwest's winning the PR battle at the moment; like I said yesterday, the airline couldn't have paid for better advertising than The New York Times gave it yesterday. And Stewart agrees: Don't tell anyone featured in the piece, but the company ordered extra copies of the paper, and Stewart's having copies framed for all the original employees showcased in the Times. The noise levels coming from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is the most likely the sound of American Airlines employees throwing up in their mouths just a little. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky