It was true, of course, that where sabotage was exposed, any insurance policies which had been taken out by those involved were automatically invalidated. In short: sabotage didn’t pay, and normal, informed people were aware of this. They also knew that even after an air disastcr from which there were no survivors, providing wreckage was located, it was possible to tell whether an explosion had occurred and, usually, by what means.
But it was not normal people, Demerest reminded the commissioners, who committed bombings or savage acts of violence. It was the abnormal, the psychopaths, the criminally insane, the conscienceless mass killers. Those kind of people were seldom well-informed, and even if they were, the pyschopathic mind had a way of perceiving only what it wanted to, of bending facts to suit what it was convenient to believe.
Mrs. Ackerman made an interjection again; this time her hostility to Demerest was unmistakable. “I’m not sure any of us, even you, Captain, have qualifications to discuss what goes on in the mind of psychopaths.”
“I wasn’t discussing it,” Demerest said impatiently. “In any case, that isn’t the point.”
“Pardon me, you were discussing it. And I happen to think it is the point.”
Vernon Demerest flushed. He was accustomed to command, not to being questioned. His temper, never far below the surface, flashed. “Madam, are you normally stupid or just being deliberately obtuse?”
The Board chairman rapped sharply with his gavel, and Mel Bakersfeld resisted the urge to laugh.
Well, Mel thought, we might as well finish right now. Vernon should stick to flying, which he was good at, and avoid diplomacy, where he had just struck out. The chances of the Airport Board doing anything which Captain Demerest wanted were, at this moment, minus nil–at least unless Mel helped Demerest out. For a moment he wondered if he should. He suspected Demerest realized he had gone too far. However, there was still time to turn what had just happened into a joke which everyone could laugh at, including Mildred Ackerman. Mel had a knack for doing that kind of thing, for making differences amenable, at the same time saving face for those on both sides. Also, he knew he was a favorite of Millie Ackerman’s; they got on well together, and she always listened attentively to anything Mel might say.
Then he decided: the hell with it. He doubted if his brother-in-law would do the same thing if their situations were reversed. Let Vernon get out of the mess himself. In any case, Mel was going to have his own say in a few minutes’ time.
“Captain Demerest,” the Board chairman observed coldly, “that last remark is uncalled for, out of order, and you will please withdraw it.”
Demerest’s features were still flushed. Momentarily he hesitated, then nodded. “Very well, I withdraw it.” He glanced at Mrs. Ackerman. “I beg the lady’s pardon. Perhaps she can understand that this is a subject which I, like most commercial flying crews, feel strongly about. When there’s something which seems to me so obvious…” He left the sentence incomplete.
Mrs. Ackerman was glaring. The apology, such as it was, Mel thought, had been handled badly. Now it was too late to smooth things over, even if he wanted to.
One of the other commissioners asked, “Captain, what exactly do you want from us?”
Demerest took a pace forward. His voice became persuasive. “I’m appealing to you for abolition of insurance machines and over-the-counter insurance vending at this airport, and a promise that you will refuse to rent space, ever again, for the same purpose.”
“You’d abolish insurance sales entirely?”
“At airports–yes. I may say, madam and gentlemen, that the Air Line Pilots Association is urging other airports to do the same thing. We’re also asking Congress to take action to make airport insurance sales illegal.”
“What would be the point of doing that in the United States, when air travel is international?”
Demerest smiled faintly. “This campaign is international, too.”
“We have the active support of pilots’ groups in forty-eight other countries. Most believe that if an example were set in North America, either by the U.S. or Canada, others would follow.”
The same commissioner said skeptically, “I’d say you’re all expecting quite a lot.”
“Surely,” the chairman interjected, “the public is entitled to buy air travel iniurance if they want it.”
Demerest nodded agreement. “Of course. No one is saying they can’t.”
“Yes, you are.” It was Mrs. Ackerman again.
The muscles around Demerest’s mouth tightened. “Madam, anyone can get all the travel insurance he wants. All he needs have is the elementary foresight to make arrangements in advance–through any insurance broker or even a travel agency.” His glance took in the other commissioners. “Nowadays a good many people carry a blanket accident policy for travel; then they make all the trips they want, and they’re insured permanently. There are plenty of ways of doing it. As an example, the major credit card companies–Diners, American Express, Carte Blanche–all offer permanent travel insurance to their card holders; it can be renewed automatically each year, and billed.”
Most businessmen who traveled, Demerest pointed out, had at least one of the credit cards he had named, so abolition of airport insurance need impose no hardship nor inconvenience on business people.
“And with all these blanket policies, the rates are low. I know, because I have that kind of policy myself.”
Vernon Demerest paused, then continued, “The important thing about all these insurance policies is that they go through channels. The applications are handled by experienced people; a day or so elapses between an application and the issuance of the policy. Because of this, there is a far better chance of the psychotic, the maniac, the unbalanced individual being noticed, his intentions questioned.
“Another thing to remember–an insane or unbalanced person is a creature of impulse. Where flight insurance is concerned, this impulse is catered to by the quickie, no-questions-asked policies available from airport vending machines and at insurance counters.”
“I think we all get the point you’re making,” the chairman said sharply. “You’re beginning to repeat yourself, Captain.”
Mrs. Ackerman nodded. “I agree. Personally, I’d like to hear what Mr. Bakersfeld has to say.”
The eyes of the commissioners swung toward Mel. He acknowledged. “Yes, I do have some observations. But I’d prefer to wait until Captain Demerest is completely finished.”
“He’s finished,” Mildred Ackerman said. “We just decided.”
One of the other commissioners laughed, and the chairman rapped with his gravel. “Yes, I really think so… If you please, Mr. Bakersfeld.”
As Mel rose, Vernon Demerest returned, glowering, to his seat.
“I may as well make it clear,” Mel began, “that I take the opposite point of view to just about everything Vernon has said. I guess you could call it a family disagreement.”
The commissioners, who were aware of Mel’s relationship by marriage to Vernon Demerest, smiled, and already, Mel sensed, the tension of a few minutes earlier had lessened. He was used to these meetings and knew that informality was always the best approach. Vernon could have found that out, too–if he had taken the trouble to inquire.
“There are several points we ought to think about,” Mel continued. “First, let’s face up to the fact that most people have always had an inherent fear of flying, and I’m convinced that feeling will always exist, no matter how much progress we make, and however much we improve our safety record. Incidentally, the one point on which I agree with Vernon is that our safety record is exceedingly good already.”
He went on: Because of this inherent fear, many passengers felt more comfortable, more reassured, with air trip insurance. They wanted it. They also wanted it to be obtainable at airports, a fact proven by the enormous volume of sales from vending machines and airport insurance booths. It was a matter of freedom that passengers should have the right, and the opportunity, to buy insurance or not. As for getting the insurance ahead of time, the plain fact was that most people didn’t think of it. Besides, Mel added, if flight insurance were sold this way, a great deal of revenue to airports–including Lincoln International–would be lost. At the mention of airport revenue, Mel smiled. The airport commissioners smiled with him.
That was the crux of it, of course, Mel realized. Revenue from the insurance concessions was too important to lose. At Lincoln International, the airport gained half a million dollars annually from commissions on insurance sales, though few purchasers realized that the airport appropriated twenty-five cents from every premium dollar. Yet insurance represented the fourth largest concession, with only parking, restaurants, and auto rentals producing larger sums for the airport’s coffers. At other big airports, insurance revenue was similar or higher. It was all very well, Mel reflected, for Vernon Demerest to talk about “greedy airport managements,” but that kind of money had a way of talking, too.
Mel decided not to put his thoughts into speech. His single brief reference to revenue was enough. The commissioners, who were familiar with the airport’s financial affairs, would get the point.
He consulted his notes. They were notes which one of the insurance companies doing business at Lincoln International had supplied him with yesterday. Mel had not asked for the notes, nor had he mentioned to anyone outside his own office that today’s insurance debate was coming up. But the insurance people had somehow learned, and it was extraordinary how they always did–then acted promptly to protect their interests.
Mel would not have used the notes if they had run counter to his own honestly held opinions. Fortunately, they did not.
“Now,” Mel said, “about sabotage–potential and otherwise.” He was aware of the board members listening intently.
“Vernon has talked quite a lot about that–but I must say, having listened carefully, that most of his remarks seemed to me to be overstatements. Actually, the proven incidents of air disasters because of insurance-inspired bombings have been very few.”
In the spectator section, Captain Demerest shot to his feet. “Great God!–how many disasters do we need to have?”
The chairman rapped sharply with his gavel. “Captain… if you please!”
Mel waited until Demerest subsided, then continued calmly, “Since the question has been asked, the answer is ‘none.’ A more pertinent question is: Might not the disasters still have occurred, even if airport-purchased insurance had not been available?”
Mel paused, to let his point sink home, before continuing.
“It can be argued, of course, that if airport insurance had not been available, the disasters we are talking about might never have happened at all. In other words, these were crimes of impulse, triggered by the ease with which airport insurance can be bought. Similarly, it can be contended that even if the crimes were contemplated in advance, they might not have been carried through had flight insurance been less readily available. Those, I think, are Vernon’s arguments–and the ALPA’s.”