Gerrymandering the Skies

Roscoe Bartlett wasn???t a big problem in Washington. Known as the ???oddest congressman,??? his big issue???befitting his background as a Navy engineer who worked on the space race???was vulnerability in the power grid.

Bartlett, who represented mountainous Western Maryland, spoke often about electromagnetic pulses and solar storms and attacks by the Russians that could leave us without electricity???let alone electronics???for six months or more.

Even as Bartlett grew into his 80s, his constituents never tired of his gentlemanly manner or quirky congressional record. But Democrats in Maryland did tire of having a Republican in their congressional delegation, so they took him out. They colluded to gerrymander the electoral map to put so many Democrats into his district that he could not survive.

It was improper and untoward and unnecessary and gave a chilling reminder of what happens when the big are allowed to push around the small.

Washington has moved right along without Bartlett???and Bartlett without Washington; he now lives off the grid, in rural West Virginia.

But other bullies are creating issues Washington won???t so easily walk away from. Take, for instance, Delta Airlines. From literally one end of the country to the other, it seeks to use its position as a powerful incumbent to push out competitors and expand market share.

In Atlanta, a proposal emerged to expand a small airport in Paulding County, 40 miles away, into a commercial airport. Of the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, Atlanta, which is No.9, is the only one without a second airport. The county had raised its own money, attracted support from Washington, the state of Georgia and money men in New York and elsewhere, and even begun to seek out airlines.

But Delta owns Atlanta in its view. It dominates Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It flies its feeder traffic in for international flights and launches hundreds of these flights across the Atlantic Ocean every day. It can???t just control most of the traffic; it has to control it all.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is looking into the matter after complaints from Paulding County, investors and others that Delta was using ???unfair and deceptive practices??? to block construction of the new airport.

Proponents of the new airport charge Delta paid for lawyers to enable Paulding County residents to sue and noted break-ins at the homes of a state representative and the chairman of the county commission???both of whom supported the project.

The new airport is unnecessary, the airline claims. Besides, ???Delta has agreed to work with [Hartsfield-Jackson] to accommodate new entrants if necessary,??? a spokesman told Reuters. Of course.

And 2,200 miles northwest of Atlanta, Delta is on the other side of the fight, engaged in an epic Battle for Seattle with its longtime code-sharing partner Alaska Airlines. Delta???s Far East base in Tokyo is underperforming, so it has turned on its friend in the regional Pacific Northwest market.

For now, the Battle for Seattle is good for consumers. Both airlines are offering more flights to more destinations and increasing community involvement. Delta pushed out Alaska Airlines as the official carrier of the Seattle Seahawks football team; Alaska responded by naming Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson its Chief Football Officer.

There is now more overlap on core routes from Seattle, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Anchorage, San Diego and Las Vegas. But Alaska has added flights to Salt Lake City, a minor Delta hub, and to Hawaii and the East Coast. And Delta has added service to London, Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul and Hong Kong.

Delta has every right to expand its business. It has the right to use the size and strength it has developed over the years to hold the line on prices and drive out competitors. It even has the right to turn on allies when they hold key positions in the market.

But a little consistency would be nice. Glen Hauenstein, Delta???s chief revenue officer, was telling the Wall Street Journal last year he thinks Seattle is big enough for both his firm and Alaska Airlines.

???I don???t think anybody gets to claim anything in the business world as theirs,??? Hauenstein said in an interview.

But that seems exactly what Delta is doing in Atlanta.