(FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – For the last 40 years, the airline industry has shrunken the globe by a magnitude of ten. The former airline executive at the center of the industry for more than three decades says things are still evolving.

“In fact, the unions used to call me Darth Vader and blah blah blah.”

Robert Crandall, the former leader of American Airlines, was at the helm for more than thirty years. Known for being an excitable and charismatic leader, he said he was always honest with the workforce. He says the recent challenges faced by airlines in the United States aren’t new.

“If you look at the airlines business as it was after deregulation bust still forty years ago, it isn’t much different than it is today,” said Crandall.

He’s dealt with labor costs, rising fuel prices, network reliability issues, and introducing new aircraft types. Crandall had only left his position as CEO three short years before September 11th shattered the industry.

“There was no reason to believe that people from all over the world would go to such lengths to kill other people. That was a different world.”

The other airline involved in 9/11, United, felt the pain of the terror attacks.

United Association of Flight Attendants MEC Secretary/Treasurer Jeff Heisey was working the morning of September 11th. He says the airline and union worked together for the flight attendant members that day.

“AFA immediately made contact with management trying to figure out exactly what was happening. It was very shortly after those events that all air traffic in and out of the United States was grounded,” said Heisey.

The attacks on New York and Washington marked a moment that safety had to overtake hospitality as the outward image of airlines.

“We went largely from an industry that was really — for lack of a better way to describe it, hospitality-based – to becoming an industry where we focused more on safety and security,” said Heisey.

Crandall said the public will continue to see volatility in the cabin and at the airport while demand teems across the globe.

“I think the one thing that every airline executive worries about all the time is safety. You have to be very sure that you don’t ever do anything that compromises the safety envelope,” said Crandall.