Up in the Air

How the CEOs of American, Continental, and Southwest Airlines are navigating the uncertainty of the world since 9-11.

YOU LIKE TACO BELL?” Gordon Bethune, Continental Airlines’ chairman and chief executive officer, asks me as he leads the way through bustling Terminal C at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Usually CEO lunch interviews are bland, catered affairs with finger sandwiches or something equally boring served in a stiff corporate setting. But Bethune—whom no one would ever accuse of being bland, boring, or stiff—likes his power lunches a bit spicier and more egalitarian. Not to mention cheaper, especially in the cost-cutting frenzy following September 11.

“Are things really that tough in the airline business?” I ask, only half-joking.

“Hell, I can’t even afford

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