Hard Landing
International’s marketing head a few years earlier at the age of 29. Gitner was one of the true prodigies of commercial aviation, an industry in which, everywhere outside of Texas International, the old fogies held sway. Hired at TWA in 1968, Gitner had soon become the youngest vice president in the industry. He was, among other things, one of the first people in the industry to discover the “portable” electronic calculator—a device the size of a salesman’s case that Gitner hauled around to route swaps and other complex bargaining proceedings among the airlines. Gitner reeled off numbers and analysis with such speed and intensity that his coworkers called himGatling Gun Gitner. Eager for the chance to earn some equity, tiring of the dinosaurs who didn’t “get it,” Gitner abandoned his 40th-floor corner office at TWA, with its view of the harbor and Kennedy Airport in the distance, to work in the windowless confines of the Blue Barn in Houston. One of Gitner’s principal aides, inturn, was James O’Donnell, who hadstarted his career conducting sales calls on pharmacies for the maker of Vicks Vaporub. O’Donnell had gone on to Mohawk Airlines, where he had become acquainted with Lorenzo, and later to Texas International.
    Burr and his aides began their counterattack by trying to pack more seats into each airplane. Most of the industry in recent years had been going in the opposite direction, ripping out interiors and installing ever wider seats with more room between rows. One of Burr’s planners, however, read about the crash of an Aeromexico DC-9 in which some 90 people were killed, and exclaimed “Ninety? Shit! We’re only carrying 70 on a DC-9!” Burr began studying ways of packing seats more tightly, a complex undertaking that demanded reconfiguring the ballast of the planes, recalibrating takeoff speeds, and installing altogether different tires.
    As they studied ways to answer Southwest’s advancements, Lorenzo’s boys quickly realized the virtue in working for one of the smallest airlines in America. With all departments under a single roof, they could analyze boarding patterns by walking down the hall to the revenue processing department and flipping through the ticket stubs for any flight. While bigger companies compiled and collated their operating data according to the reporting requirements of the CAB, Lorenzo’s people worked up their own spreadsheets by hand, according to their own curiosity, a task made infinitely simpler by Gitner’s experience in operating an electronic calculator.
    It soon became evident to all of them that Texas International could not compete head-to-head with Southwest. The company could replace the business it had lost to Southwest only by raiding the bigger, more established carriers of passengers. But with its Tree Tops image, how could Texas International ever hope to distinguish itself from the bigger airlines? With a price discount—if they could ever convince the government to allow it.
    Lorenzo’s former Harvard classmate, Bob Carney, urged caution; a price cut on the order of 15 percent, he argued, would be radical enough. The junior men in the group, Gitner and O’Donnell, pushed for something simple, something nobody could forget, something like half off. It reminded O’Donnell of his days selling Vicks Vaporub— half off if you order today! “A bargain isn’t a bargain unless it’s perceived as a bargain,” Gitner argued.
    The arithmetic was obvious: flying a plane completely full at one half the fare was better than flying it one-third full at full fare. Lorenzo, thougheager for the acceptance of his fellow airline chieftains and reluctant to break their pricing stricture, began to appreciate the logic of slashing prices. He told people how busy his father’s Third Avenue beauty salon became when a sign went into the window promoting aspecial on permanents.
    Lorenzo gave his approval.
    On November 2, 1976, Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford.

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