Mr. Steinberg, a Harvard Law graduate known for his soft-spoken but adroit diplomacy, spent more than two decades as a lawyer in the highly litigious aviation industry. Since 2008, he had been a partner of the Washington-based government regulation practice of the Jones Day law firm.
“Andy Steinberg was one of the greatest aviation lawyers of his generation,” said Jeffrey N. Shane, a partner at the Washington firm Hogan Lovells and a former undersecretary for policy at the Transportation Department. “He was in full command of the most complex and obscure laws and regulations — both domestic and international — and brought a level of creativity and intellectual rigor to his work that consistently impressed clients and colleagues alike.”
From 1990 to 1996, Mr. Steinberg was one of American Airlines’ senior attorneys, handling a range of employment and environmental matters for the carrier. In 1993, he was a member of the in-house legal team that helped American successfully defend against an antitrust lawsuit brought by rivals Continental and Northwest.
American, led by the hard-charging chief executive Robert L. Crandall, started a “value pricing” program in summer 1992. Much of the industry was reeling financially, and Continental had only recently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Crandall’s plan, which he said was intended to simplify a complicated pricing structure, eliminated many discounts and reduced full-coach fares almost 40 percent in some cases.
Value pricing led competitors to slash rates, and American responded in kind. It was a quick race to the bottom (and a boon to travelers), and American ended its program by October 1992. Continental and Northwest sued in part to recoup enormous losses.
“The fact is that American has gotten to its place in the industry through hard work, skill and innovation, not through predatory conduct,” Mr. Steinberg said at the time. “For these plaintiffs, a couple of less-than-successful companies, to come into court and tell us we are barred from trying to innovate is ridiculous.”
The plaintiffs, represented by the legal powerhouses Joe Jamail and David Boies, charged that the pricing scheme was designed to “eliminate” the two financially weaker airlines. A federal jury in Galveston, Tex., ruled in American’s favor in 1993 after only four hours of deliberations. The plaintiffs did not appeal the verdict.
Winning the suit wasn’t enough to revive value pricing, said Aaron Gellman, a Northwestern University management professor who has studied airline regulation. “If the industry wasn’t going to go along with value pricing, it wasn’t going to work. It was clear all the other airlines opposed it, and American couldn’t get a tacit agreement” from its competitors.