Continental CEO: 'We Don't Let Our Guard Down'

This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, October 16, 2003, that was edited for clarity.

Watch Your World w/Cavuto weekdays at 4 p.m. and 1 a.m. ET.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Days ago, the Department of Homeland Security issued warnings to airlines to be on a heightened alert because of recent terrorist threats.

Joining me now is a man behind the nation’s fifth largest airline whose earnings beat analyst average estimates again. Gordon Bethune is the chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines.

Gordon, welcome. Good to have you.

GORDON BETHUNE, CHAIRMAN & CEO, CONTINENTAL AIRLINES (CAL): Always nice to be here, Neil. Thank you.

CAVUTO: Congratulations on these numbers. They’re remarkable, especially given the still-sputtering economy. What are you noticing?

BETHUNE: Well, I think, you know, we’ve our costs under control, and we’ve got a really good product, fine people that like their jobs. So it’s showing a difference in the marketplace. We eked out a small profit, but we know there is a tough six months ahead of us, and we’re kind of battening down the hatches.

CAVUTO: You know, Gordon, how have you been able to maintain those good worker relations? I mean Southwest, which used to be praised for this sort of thing -- now they’re taking out tongue-in-cheek ads on National Boss’s Day to remind the new management that it ought to cough up more. I’m paraphrasing here. But there does not seem to be any of the agita with you guys that I’m seeing with a lot of other airline guys. Why is that?

BETHUNE: Well, not everyone’s always a hundred percent happy, as you know, Neil, but, you know, we treat people with dignity and respect -- they’re valuable members of the team -- communicate well, and they appreciate it. It really makes a difference in the marketplace, as you see from our numbers today.

CAVUTO: All right. Let’s talk a little bit about these warnings that are coming from Homeland Security about terrorists maybe using planes again, as they did on September 11. What do you know of that? What do you what do you make of that?

BETHUNE: No, I think, you know, we’re always on a heightened sense of security. I think we’ve got probably the best security measures anywhere in the world, and so, while it’s always nice to have the additional information, we don’t let down our guard any time, and I think we’re kind of a hundred percent safe. I feel real good about the security of the whole industry today and certainly about Continental.

CAVUTO: What do you think, let’s say, particularly first-class passengers would do in the event someone tried to storm the cockpit?

BETHUNE: Well, I mean you and me and everyone else, including the 80-year-old grandmother that used a Walker to get on, would bite him in the leg. I mean, on the forth aircraft back on 9/11, they wouldn’t let it happen. Certainly, people are much more aware today. First of all, too, they’re not going to get into the door, which is the best line of defense.

CAVUTO: All right. Now that might be true, and I’ve flown a lot of different planes, but I notice some people who are letting down their guard again. I notice that the cabin door is open a little bit more than it used to be. You know, sometimes it’s shielded by the cart, whatever. I’m not saying Continental planes, I don’t even know what the heck I was on. But I am saying that we have kind of let down our guard, haven’t we? That’s why some people say it could happen again.

BETHUNE: Oh, I think anything’s possible. I know they’re pretty disciplined crews, and that’s part of the discipline in the organization, but I’ve got to tell you, too, just as you mentioned, the rest of the airplane -- nobody’s going to take over 150 people, and so I feel real good about the defenses and the security, but, most important, I feel real good about the other hundred people on there with me.

CAVUTO: All right. Now, as far as the economy and what it’s saying about your improved numbers, do you think it’s picking up?

BETHUNE: I think so, Neil. We have some indication our traffic was strong. We didn’t get a big increase in yield, so the revenue per passenger didn’t climb, but the numbers of people did climb, and I’m feeling good about our cost control making us into a break-even for next year, and that’s our whole target.

CAVUTO: Indeed. You’re also taking good care of your first-class passengers. I think to paraphrase you, Gordon, you had said they’re paying more, they should get more, and so they get elite line status and all of that. How is that working out so far?

BETHUNE: Well, always on the first class, that’s right, and the elite access, the program that says people the people coach cabin who paid a little more should be able to sit on the aisle or the window and get their bags faster -- and we’re doing those things, too -- because if you do pay more, you should get something besides just a refundable ticket.

CAVUTO: All right. Maybe an extra bag of peanuts, right?


CAVUTO: All right. Gordon Bethune, thank you very much. Congratulations.

BETHUNE: Thanks, Neil.

CAVUTO: The man who runs Continental Airlines, out with better-than-expected numbers Thursday.

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