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9/11: A Year After / WHO WE ARE NOW

Leo Mullin

September 11, 2002

Leo Mullin, 59, is chief executive of Delta Air Lines. With top executives at American and United stricken by having lost passengers and crew members in the attacks, Mullin was thrust into the spotlight as the voice of the airline industry as it begged Washington officials for a bailout.

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"We immediately heard speculation that one of the airplanes might have been a Delta plane. My wife happened to be going into New York at just that time [on a Delta flight] for a meeting. I thought, 'Oh, my God.' I just stopped for a moment and thought, 'Could this be?' [But] her plane had been diverted to Allentown, Pa.

By Thursday or Friday [after the attacks], it had begun to dawn on us that this was going to have enormous financial consequences on the airlines. The airline CEOs went to the White House on Tuesday, and afterward, American Airlines CEO Don Carty pulled me off to the side. He said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta wants someone to speak for the industry, [and] 'Can you handle it?' He never told me exactly why.

Mineta then said, 'We're going to step out of the White House and make some comments [to the media] and you'll be asked to say something.' I will never forget it--a huge bank of television cameras and microphones. It was something right out of the movies.

Two weeks later when the job cuts were made, I made the announcement in three different places that day, before about 500 people each. At all three places, I got a standing ovation."

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As told to James F. Peltz

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