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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Pilots Say Airways Are Not Safe; Venus Talks Wimbledon
Aired July 16, 2008 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, you're look live at airports across the United States, where sky-high oil costs threaten to ground travelers and put major airlines out of business. Overcrowding might even get worse. Flight cancellations could increase. What was a luxury experience is now almost intolerable.
What's going on with the airlines?
Plus, Venus Williams in her first primetime interview since winning her fifth Wimbledon title.
What's it like defeating her own sister? What's it like being the richest female athlete on the planet? And why does she still fly coach?
Find out right now on LARRY KING LIVE.
Big story in the airline industry today, prompted by a major ad in "USA Today." we'll get to that in a moment. We'll get to our breaking news in a second.
We had hoped to have the CEO of US Airways as our guest tonight. He canceled two hours before the show, citing a scheduling issue. We offered to send a camera to his location just blocks from our Washington, D.C. bureau and still he was unable to fulfill his commitment to appear on LARRY KING LIVE. We regret that he's unable to answer your questions and mine, as promoted and promised to you.
We do have a great lineup of guests to address some dramatic developments in the airline industry this evening.
And we begin with an old friend Jim May. Jim is president and CEO of the Air Transport Association. ATA is the nation's oldest and largest airline trade association.
On the phone, another old friend, Mary Schiavo. Mary is the former inspector-general of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
What happened to Doug Parker tonight, Jim?
JIM MAY, PRESIDENT & CEO, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: Larry, Doug is on Capitol Hill. I started to say just the Hill, but for your listeners, he's on Capitol Hill. He's meeting with a group of key senators legislators and senators on many of the prominent issues that I'm sure we'll talk about tonight, including the very extraordinarily high price of oil.
KING: Will he give us a rain check?
MAY: I suspect he will. I know I'm going to see him later tomorrow for a brief meeting. And I will certainly tell him that rain check opportunity has been extended.
KING: Jim, could that cancellation have had anything to do with this full-page ad today in "USA Today" taken by the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, in which they claim that the airline pilots are being kind of hit hard by their employers to pressuring them to use less fuel, which they feel is less safe?
MAY: Larry, to be honest with you, I haven't seen that ad. I would be surprised if Doug canceled as a result of a single ad. It's not a new issue. It's tied into, I suspect, their contract negotiations right now, that are ongoing at US Airways. But it's a safety issue for us and it's one that we've never violated.
KING: So are you denying this statement that they put in the ad: "US Airways management has recently begun pressuring your captain to reduce fuel levels for your flight in order to save money and pilots who fail to conform to company expectations are subject to training events, which could result in the termination of their careers."
MAY: Larry, I've known you a long time. You know I'll play straight with you. I can't confirm or deny that one. I simply haven't seen the ad, so I don't know. I'm not a US Airways employee.
But to suggest that the airlines are working to save dollars resulting from the high cost of fuel, I don't think there's any question. But I also know that they're never going to compromise safety to do that.
KING: OK. Mary Schiavo is on the phone, the former inspector- general of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
What do you make of this, Mary?
MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, DOT: Well, actually what I make of it, it's something that Continental tried earlier in the year. And what they're asking the pilots to do is not to top off the tanks. And that sounds simple enough, but it's not really.
What that means is the federal aviation regulations have requirements for the pilots. They have to be able to fly to an alternative airport and then fly for an additional 45 minutes beyond that. And the pilots say, look, we have the authority and we have the obligation and it's law that we have the decision to make how much fuel to put on board.
And if the airline says fly with less than what you think you need -- and there have been many reports where they've been pressured to do that in order to save, you know, 15,000 pounds of fuel, we'll save you a lot of money on a flight -- that, therefore, they felt they had been pressured to save money in a way that could affect safety. And my old office actually did a study on this when Continental tried it. And what they found is declarations of fuel, minimum fuels -- it's not the same as an emergency, but it means that you're running short on fuel -- increased three times over. And that disrupted the traffic system.
KING: So what should the pilot do?
SCHIAVO: Well, the pilots are doing what they have to do, what they are doing, and that is they have to stick to their guns. The law requires it. If they should take off or they should fly ever without those minimums -- and they do get spot checks. If they fly without those minimums, they could face action against them, disciplinary action by the Federal Aviation Administration could put their license in jeopardy. And, remember, I always trust, number one, the person flying the plane. They're going to make the decision and the law requires them to.
KING: Jim May, you're not saying that the Airline Pilots Association would put in an ad that's not true.
Obviously, something had to happen to threaten them, don't you a degree?
MAY: Larry, I -- again, I try to stress for you, I'm not -- I haven't seen the ad and I'm not aware of the circumstances. So I can't, in all candor, give you a comment.
KING: OK. We're going to talk in a while about oil and what's been going on with fuel and the whole airline industry.
Mary, what do you make of the ad, though? Do you believe it?
SCHIAVO: Well, I do believe it just because -- well, first of all, I've talked to some of the pilots, but only in a good way. They're trying to make sure that safety is not compromised. But also because other airlines have done it. Like I mentioned, Continental did it. And that evoked actually a Congressional inquiry and an investigation by the office of the inspector-general. And so I believe that's correct.
If you -- for example, if you fly with 75,000 pounds of fuel as opposed to 90,000, you might be able to save as much as $16,000 on a three hour flight. And airlines have cut everything, including, for example, American Airlines tore out the wiring for the phones in the old phones -- phones in the backs of the seats to try to save money. They took out outlets in the bathrooms.
KING: I've got you.
SCHIAVO: They're doing everything to save money.
KING: The real problem.
Thanks, Mary. Thanks for joining us.
James will continue. And we'll talk about this whole fuel problem and the airlines.
We do have a statement from US Air: "Safety is the number one priority in everything we do. We are absolutely," they say, "not employing intimidation tactics to pressure pilots into operating aircraft with unsafe fuel levels. Our arrival fuel amounts, on average, are more than twice the FAA minimum standards. Further, the fuel management program we are asking just eight of our 5,000 pilots to participate in is in no way punitive or stifling to the pilots' careers. It's a one day training program designed to emphasize the importance of a safe and efficient arrival fuel amount."
We'll be right back.
KING: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE.
Jim May, the president and CEO of the Air Transport Association, remains with us.
Joining us now in New York is Poppy Harlow, anchor for CNNMoney.com.
In San Francisco is Kate Hanni, founder and executive director of flyersrights -- that's one word -- flyersrights.org.
Remaining on the phone with us is Mary Schiavo.
Before we talk about this whole airline story, Poppy, what do you make of this story currently we have discussed, the airline pilots and fuel?
POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: Yes. I mean it's a -- it's a really big concern. I was surprised to hear that the CEO did not come on the program tonight, obviously, dealing with a lot of issues here, because safety is the number one priority for all of these airlines.
But the truth is with these fuel prices -- we've seen a decline in oil over the past few days. But with these fuel prices, the airline industry is bleeding money.
Interesting fact here, US Airways saying they'll spend $2 billion more this year than last year on fuel. So that's a huge concern to them.
And, also, it's a concern to a lot of Americans, especially in the small cities that aren't having an easy time getting around. A lot of cuts to flights to their cities. So the airlines trying to make the best of this situation. But it's pretty tough with these record high fuel prices. Larry, you know, oil falling a lot this week, but we're still above $136 a barrel. You've got to keep that in mind.
Now, Kate, we don't want the pilots to fly with less fuel than they should, do we?
So what do we do about this conflict and crisis here?
KATE HANNI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FLYERSRIGHTS.ORG: Well, every American that has an issue with this should be calling their congressmen and their senators and saying please don't allow the airlines to speculate with our lives and cut fuel. They're also cutting water on a lot of the planes and yet they hold people on the tarmac for hours and hours and hours, not letting them off, without water -- without potable water.
So I think it's a very, very serious problem. The passengers I'm speaking to are already so degraded -- and we've got 23,200 members. They're already so degraded and humiliated, they were, frankly, shocked to be asked by the airlines to help them with this situation. They feel like they should be getting something if they're going to again help bail out the airlines.
KING: All right, Jim May, we know you didn't read the ad, but obviously you've got the gist of it now.
What does the airline do?
MAY: Well, Larry, I think you've opened up a whole range of things that we can talk about. Number one, in terms of Miss. Hanni's assertion that we should be ashamed of asking our passengers for help, as a practical matter, there have been well over one million of them who have communicated with Congress because they think that we, like the rest of the economy, are feeling the pinch of these extraordinarily high oil prices.
It is not an issue that is unique to just airlines. It's the whole transportation sector. It's the whole hospitality and hotel business. It's everybody associated with automobiles, anyone who uses gasoline.
So I'm not a bit ashamed that we have reached out to our best customers to ask for their help in trying to bring fuel prices down.
We're going to spend some $60 billion on fuel this year. And at $100 and -- as Poppy said, at $135, $136 a barrel right now -- and remember, with the refining premium for Jet A, that's probably about $160 a barrel to airlines. It is having an...
KING: Yes. Joining us now...
MAY: ...extraordinary impact.
KING: Jim, joining us now on the phone is James Ray in Charlotte, North Carolina. James is a spokesman for the United States Airline Pilots Association.
Obviously, you totally backed this ad in "USA Today."
What do you make, though, of the assurances by the company that they're not harming these pilots and they're not cutting back on fuel? JAMES RAY, SPOKESMAN, U.S. AIRLINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION: Well, Larry, the -- they are, in fact, cutting back on fuel. All the airlines are. And that's a prudent thing to do in this environment.
The concern is that they're cut back sometimes below the captain's comfort level. And so as far as the training being non- punitive -- and they did tell us that this training is non-jeopardy for these captains.
However, the FAA, if they are to participate in this training -- which they do. That's their job. They police our industry. And on a daily basis, the FAA does show up in the simulator sessions and observe the training being -- taking place.
If the FAA shows up and that pilot is manipulating the controls of that aircraft, then that pilot is being given a check ride. And that is where we have concerns as far as action that could be taken against the pilot's license.
KING: James, are you saying, therefore, that some flights -- US Air flights -- are, let's say, flying from Los Angeles to New York with not enough reserve fuel?
RAY: No, Larry. The -- we would never dispatch the aircraft without the FAA minimum required fuel. And, again, I don't believe our airline is unique this fashion. I think they're all trying to reduce. What you have to understand is that the heavier the aircraft is, the more fuel it burns. So you're seeing drastic measures. You're seeing airlines such as US Airways taking snacks off the aircraft, taking in- flight videos off the aircraft, reducing the weight of their service carts for the flight attendants -- anything they can do to make that aircraft weigh less, it will save them fuel burned.
RAY: But the biggest -- the heaviest thing on the aircraft is the fuel. So if you can reduce the fuel load, the aircraft will actually burn less fuel.
KING: But if you're saying they are flying with the mini -- with the standards, then is this ad wrong?
RAY: No, sir. What -- the ad is absolutely dead on. And that sometimes the FAA minimums are not enough, in the eyes of a captain. These are very experienced captains, I'll mention to you, very senior pilots that are flying eight and 10 hour missions every day across the Atlantic Ocean a wide-bodied aircraft. And they're adding, on average, no more than about 10 to 15 minutes of additional fuel. And they're not adding it all the time. In fact, there are not even adding it half of the time.
But the company has, for whatever reason -- in fact, we did talk with the company president last week and pleaded with him to reconsider this training for just the eight selected pilots. And if it's really a good training, how about putting all 5,200 of our pilots through that training and make it part of our annual recurrent training program?
He declined that action and implied this was actually a way to reprimand those pilots that, in their eyes, were abusing their privilege, as the FAA gives that captain, the privilege to decide how much fuel goes on his or her aircraft.
KING: OK, James. Hold it right there. We're going to take a break and come back. And a retired captain will be on the phone with us, as well.
Mary Schiavo has returned, the former inspector-general at the FAA.
All this on LARRY KING LIVE.
And still to come, Venus Williams.
Don't go away.
KING: Just a reminder, the chairman and CEO of US Airways, Doug Parker, was supposed to be our guest tonight. He canceled just two hours before the show, citing a scheduling issue.
Joining us on the phone is Bruce Meyer, a retired captain for Continental Airlines.
Captain, what do you make of what we've been talking about?
KING: Are you there, Captain Meyer?
OK. We'll try to reconnect with Captain Meyer.
Peter Greenberg is in Washington. He's travel editor of NBC's "Today Show." His latest book, by the way, is "The Complete Travel Detective Bible" and his new book is "Don't Go There." That will be out in November.
All right, Peter, what do you make of this fuel -- not carrying enough fuel or reduced minimum fuels and the like?
PETER GREENBERG, AUTHOR, "TRAVEL EDITOR TODAY": I think it's an intramural battle between the pilots and the airline at this point. It's not a problem for me. Every captain has the ability and the right to take on as much fuel as they want to do. I think this will work itself out.
We have a much bigger picture problem here, Larry. And that is, can the airlines even survive?
This is not about the airlines being competitive anymore, it's about basic survival mode. They've circled the wagons and they can't find the cavalry. So when you see US Air taking off the in-flight entertainment system, you see American Airlines removing magazines, you see everybody trying to like shed weight. It's like those old World War II movies where the plane is going down and they're trying to throw everything out of the plane before they jump. We've got some serious problems here.
KING: Mary Schiavo, do you agree?
SCHIAVO: Oh, I agree completely. And I suspect that what's going to happen is after all of it shakes out and a couple more of the airlines merge is there will be a real call on Capitol Hill and by the public to revisit having non-U.S. carriers serve domestic U.S. cities. That's probably going to be the next issue, is to revisit those treaties.
KING: OK. Now we understand that Bruce Meyer is there.
Bruce, are you there?
BRUCE MEYER, FORMER PILOT, CONTINENTAL AIRLINES: Yes, I am.
Thank you, Larry, for having me on.
KING: All right, Bruce is -- thank you -- is a retired captain with Continental Airlines.
What do you make of this fuel story?
MEYER: Well, it's not a new story. I think that the way that US Air is handling it is taking it one step beyond. There has always been pressure to keep costs down. Pilots are professionals and they understand that their jobs and careers are at stake. Everyone involved in the airline industry knows how critical it is to save costs.
Therefore, you know, executives telling pilots to save fuel is just not in any way helpful. Pilots are trying to do that as it is. Putting pressure on pilots not to carry as much fuel as they need is going against the responsibility of the captains themselves.
KING: But the airline, Captain...
KING: The airline, US Air -- and we read the statement -- says that the fuel management program we're asking is just eight of our 5,000 pilots to participate in. They're not being punished. And our arrival fuel amounts, on average, are more than twice the FAA minimum standards.
MEYER: Well, you're talking average arrival fuels.
MEYER: You're talking -- and we're talking specific arrival fuels. A captain looks at his -- at weather, at traffic, at all sorts of different variables, what he has experienced in the past, and he makes his decision on how much fuel he needs based on his knowledge and his experience in his professional opinion. And you can't use averages, you know, to defend that.
And to say you're only going to take eight pilots and line them up in front of the firing squad doesn't mean that you can have the signal sent the best of the pilots as to what they're trying to get through to them.
I would like to emphasize that what we are talking about here is not aircraft running out of fuel. Pilots are not going to let their aircraft get low on fuel. And we're not talking about minimum legal requirements. We're talking about safe, prudent requirements that the pilot thinks he needs to get himself -- and if his family was in the back of the aircraft -- prudently down.
KING: All right, but, Captain, if he has not going to let it happen, what's the worry?
MEYER: The worry is as you are cutting the fuel requirements and forcing everybody to try harder and harder and cutting corners, then you have a situation like you had in Newark, where the minimum fuel calls go from, you know, two or three a year to 80 or 90 a year. It puts a stress on the entire system.
You're going to see accidents eventually, or incidents happen, due to this pressure -- economic pressure. It's not just fuel, but that's the biggest one. It will not take the form of an aircraft running out of fuel and crashing. That's just not how it happens.
It means that there's more -- more aircraft coming in with low fuel. The pressure is on the controllers to get everybody on the ground as fast as they can. They're going to continue operations under visual conditions when there really should be instrument conditions. They're going to be using intersecting runways to get more aircraft on the ground faster. Then you're going to have summit (ph).
KING: All right...
MEYER: You have to go around and have an accident that way.
KING: We have a lady, Rebeka, at San Francisco Airport with a question for our panel.
Rebeka, can you hear me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I can.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a member of the flying public and I...
KING: All right, go ahead. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I'm a member of the flying public. I fly about every three months or so. And I'm concerned, having just come back from Dallas, where is the money that I'm paying for my airline tickets going?
And what lies ahead for the flying public?
MAY: Larry, I think the short answer to that, it's going to fuel. The average cost of a round trip ticket today, all in, is about $400. And about $270 or $285 of that is going to fuel. There's simply not enough money left. And that's why we're cutting all these flights out that are non-profitable.
KING: So, Peter...
GREENBERG: Larry, if I can jump in here for a second?
GREENBERG: Think about this. As we're speaking to you now, American Airlines is spending $20,000 a minute on fuel. And let's go back to Kennedy Airport right now and ask how many of those planes are sitting on that taxiway right now?
What's their fuel burn while they're being delayed an hour or two hours to take off?
That's the real waste here.
MAY: An hour for a 747 is probably about $2,700, $2,800 in fuel.
KING: OK. Here's part of a -- here's part of a statement from US Air that we gave you before: "Safety is our number one priority in everything we do and we are absolutely not employing intimidation tactics to pressure pilots into operating aircraft with unsafe fuel levels. Our arrival fuel amounts, on average, are more than twice the FAA minimum standards.
When we come back, some more questions from passengers at airports right now. Don't go away.
KING: In a little while, Venus Williams, five time Wimbledon winner.
We've got our panel assembled and lots of people from around the United States checking in with us, including Michelle, who is at Dulles Airport.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, Larry. How are you? My question for you and for your panel is this: with the current economic downturn that our country is experiencing, it seems like there has been a severe decrease in the amount of passengers that are flying currently. And, therefore, those of us that can still afford to fly with the economic challenges that we're having, it seems that we're getting penalized with extra baggage fees, extra leg room fees, et cetera. How long will we expect for this to continue? If so, what other charges can we expect in the future?
KING: Good question. Kate Hanni is founder and executive director of flyersrights.org.
HANNI: They have none, and that's the problem. One thing I want to say in relationship to the oil speculation that relates to her question is that the airline industry, and especially James May and the ATA, who lobbies for the airline industry, has been saying that they don't want to allow passengers to have rights because they want to compete on their -- based on their plans, which would be interfering with the free market. Then, by asking the passengers to advocate for them to curb oil speculation, that is interfering with the free market.
So -- and they could have hedged oil a year ago at 70 dollars a barrel, for almost nothing, and we would not be in this situation. But, instead, the executives of the airlines took the profits for themselves, and skimmed the profits, and left the passengers high and dry. And now they're unbundling the fees instead of just saying, this is the cost of a flight. This is what it costs --
KING: Let Jim respond. Jim?
MAY: Gosh, Larry, I hardly know where to start after all of that. I think as a practical matter, we're going to continue to charge higher fees until we can cover the cost of oil. We have a very large coalition that's trying to stop speculation. Many of the members of that coalition are also the members of Kate's organization, including the Teamsters. And -- and -- and broadly, what we're trying to do is attack the fundamental high cost of oil.
We're doing it because we think the speculation index commodity traders speculation is adding somewhere between 30 and 40 dollars a barrel. We're doing it to make all the cost savings that we can in this process.
You know, our goal here is to have a smooth, efficient, safe airline to operate or series of airlines to operate. And the key here is to drive down over time the overall high cost of oil.
KING: Poppy Harlow, who's right?
HARLOW: Jim, I have a question for you here, because you know 12 CEOs of the major U.S. carriers sent open letter last week to customers asking them to help them stop speculation. But all the major airlines all speculate in their own way. They all hedge oil. So what --
MAY: You bet.
HARLOW: What is the difference here? Now the airlines do take physical possession of that oil, hedge funds, pension funds, do the same thing. They don't. But still, you're calling on the public to help you stop something that you practice yourself.
HANNI: That's right.
MAY: Actually, Poppy -- if Kate will let me get a word in edgewise, there is a very fundamental difference that you yourself have just pointed out. The people who take possession of the physical commodity of oil are hedging, as they should, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and there is no change in any proposed legislation to change that fact. What we're going after are the index speculators because oil has become sort of the new gold. It's become a financial instrument. It is those folks that are helping to drive up the overall --
KING: All right, we'll find out in a minute --
HARLOW: This is a free market and anyone is allowed to speculate on commodities if they wish.
KING: We'll find out in a minute where all this is going. We'll have another caller at an airport. We'll take care of that when we come back.
KING: Let's take a call from Andreen. He is at L.A.X. Andreen, are you there? Is Andreen there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here.
KING: All right, Andreen, go ahead. What's your question?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the high gas prices and the way the flights are going right now, is there -- what is the FCC -- excuse me, FAA doing to help these companies with their gas issues?
KING: Mary, what's the FAA's role?
SCHIAVO: Well, the FAA's role is supposed to be safety, oversight and supposed to be shepherding the investment of the country in airports and in the facilities to help the airplanes run on time and run smoothly. That is an excellent question, because what the FAA should be doing is providing delay free air traffic control at airports; and we are woefully behind on the new air traffic control system, and we haven't built a new airport in over a decade. That's what the FAA should be doing.
Unfortunately, today on Capitol Hill, there were hearings on FAA's lack of their performance of their rule and that they're too close with the airlines.
KING: What's the last airport, Mary, Denver? SCHIAVO: Denver, a long time ago.
KING: See, I know something. Peter Greenberg, where do you think all of this is going?
GREENBERG: We define a successful airline in this country by which can lose money longer. Think about that. That's pretty sad. What we're facing right now is capacity being slashed across the board. September 15th I call the drop dead day, where you'll see capacity slashed on domestic roots by as much as 15 percent by each company. When that happens, you have about 100 U.S. cities that are in basic jeopardy of either having severely reduced air service or no air service at all. You think prices are high now. Get ready.
KING: Key question, James Ray, is it safe to fly?
RAY: Absolutely. The captain of your flight tomorrow will ensure your safety. It rests in his hands. It's granted by the FAA. The captain will get you to your destination safer today than he ever has in the past.
KING: Kate Hanni do you agree?
HANNI: I don't agree. I believe we're in the land of diminishing returns. Our group decrypted the NASA report that was very controversial, that finally was released, that showed that the number of unauthorized landings, bird hits, near misses were much greater than the government was reporting. And not only that, but late last year, the president spoke and asked Mary Peters to do something about this long ground delay problem, which is a fuel problem as well.
KING: But you're -- I just want to clear it up.
KING: Kate, will you fly tomorrow?
HANNI: I will not. I'll fly on Monday. But I will fly Virgin America who has new jets and great service.
KING: All right. I want to get in one more quick caller. We have David at Dulles. We have to move fast.
David are you there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Larry.
KING: What's the question?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is, are frequent flyer miles going to become obsolete? With the increase in security fees and taxes mostly and -- how --
KING: OK, that's a fair question. Jim May, what happens to frequent flyer miles? GREENBERG: I want to answer this one, Larry.
GREENBERG: I do. No airline wants to displace revenue passengers. It's the most profitable program any airline has. Think about this, the market valuation of the American Advantage Program is over six billion dollars. The entire market capitalization of American Airlines is only five. So they're never going to get rid of the programs. They're going to just continue to change the rules as a generator of great revenue, and they're keep redemptions under 11 percent.
You want to go to Des Moines at 3:00 in the morning on a Wednesday, I can get you on with your frequent flyer miles. You want to go to Hawaii any time in your lifetime, go to an art supply store, get a picture frame and hang it on the wall.
KING: Bruce, do you miss flying?
GREENBERG: Do I miss flying?
GREENBERG: No, I fly every day.
KING: I mean as a -- you pilot your own plane?
GREENBERG: No, I'm not that suicidal. No --
KING: I was asking Bruce Mayer.
GREENBERG: Oh, I'm sorry.
KING: The pilot. Anyway, we have run out of time. We have to do more on this. Thanks very much to all of you for an enlightening, enlightening program. We're serving up Venus Williams next. Stay with us.
KING: We welcome to LARRY KING LIVE with a great pleasure and a great honor, Venus Williams, who earlier this month won her fifth women's singles title at Wimbledon. To do so, she defeated her younger sister, Serena, who was also a recent guest on this program. Before we talk to Venus, let's take a look at the final moments of the match against your sister, giving you your fifth women's title.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it is five-four, Venus.
Center court, Wimbledon, once again, her magic kingdom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Sometime after you and your sister won the doubles.
VENUS WILLIAMS, WIMBLEDON CHAMPION: Yes, we did.
KING: Did that make it easier for your sister?
WILLIAMS: No, it doesn't because -- I mean, obviously, Wimbledon is Wimbledon. And to take home two titles is a little better than to take home one. Obviously, we're ready for the doubles and we got that win too.
KING: Is it harder to play your sister?
WILLIAMS: It's definitely harder because with Serena -- since she's my sister, of course, I'm thinking, how is she doing, is she OK, what can I do for her? Whereas my other opponents, I don't think any of those thing.
KING: Do you feel her pain?
WILLIAMS: I know what it's like. I don't know if I feel her pain. I guess I feel a little better because I won.
KING: How does your father react to all this?
WILLIAMS: My dad, as soon as Serena won her semifinal match for us to meet in the finals -- I was sitting there. He said, Venus, can you book my ticket? Honestly, I didn't want to book the ticket and I started not to. I said, I better listen to him. I wanted him to stay. I wanted him to be there for the practice in between the finals and to watch our doubles match. But he couldn't take it. I don't think he's watched that final yet actually.
KING: I don't imagine you could. Were you rival as kids?
WILLIAMS: We were rivals. It was very one-sided. I won all the time. At this moment now, I'm 6'1 and I was always taller than her. I was very tall and, like, this big.
KING: What's the age difference?
WILLIAMS: Just a year and three months. I was always winning at that point.
KING: That's close, like twins. You played on the public courts in Compton, California, right?
WILLIAMS: We played on the public courts in Compton, California. We had the whole public court circuit back then. We played all over southern California.
KING: You've had tragedy in your life. Lost an older half- sister, right?
WILLIAMS: Yes, sister, my sister. KING: Full sister?
WILLIAMS: Yes, totally. But, I mean --
KING: Tennis help you through that?
WILLIAMS: I'm not sure. I think just faith and my family and having other sisters to lean on. No matter how bad the time was, being able to laugh and to laugh with my family and my sisters, I think that's really what brought us through.
KING: We have an e-mail question from Michelle in Charlotte, North Carolina: "Congrats on your fifth Wimbledon win. When are you and golfer Hank Kuehne tying the knot?"
WILLIAMS: I don't know. I've been so focused on winning titles that I guess I haven't thought about anything further than that. So sorry.
KING: Are you engaged?
WILLIAMS: No, I'm not engaged so --
KING: Are you serious?
WILLIAMS: I try to be.
KING: Is he serious?
WILLIAMS: Yes, he's very nice.
KING: That's good avoidance. I guess it's not happening tomorrow.
WILLIAMS: No, it's not, no.
KING: We have one other e-mail from Tom in Glendale, California: "I know you support gender equality issues. Are you at all political? Would you campaign for a candidate?"
WILLIAMS: Oh, my gosh. I'm not at all political. Of course, I believe in equal opportunity for everyone no matter gender or color or where you're from. So I definitely support that.
KING: What about Barack Obama?
WILLIAMS: I think it's -- this whole election year has been an amazing story because of having a woman and then having an African- American, two minorities. So, of course, I've enjoyed watching that story. And we'll see how it turns out. I've been a huge fan of watching both of them.
KING: But you're not going to campaign?
WILLIAMS: No, not necessarily, no. But I do like that it's starting to open up and that -- on all platforms and politics and everywhere else, that people in the minority are having more opportunities.
KING: Do you think it's tougher -- it's tough enough on women. Is it tougher on the black woman?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, that's a tough question. I think that, if you think about it, 40 years ago or 30 years a we were -- Martin Luther King was around and Malcolm X and all these leaders, and the women's right movement was there. So it is very young that people have started to have equal opportunities. I think, do you have to work harder as a minority? I think you just always can never forget who you are and just cherish who you are.
KING: But you certainly had to overcome odds that a white tennis player would not have overcome? Would you agree?
WILLIAMS: Well, if you think of it in the way of some of my contemporaries or some of my colleagues, like some are from Moscow and some are from Hungary, and some are from the Ukraine, so they probably grew up in worse ghettos than I did with less opportunity. So, it just depends on how you look at it. For me, I had a great family. So whether I had a penny or a million dollars, the family was what mattered most.
KING: Go back a little. Were you a natural at tennis?
WILLIAMS: I think probably.
KING: You were playing tournaments at nine, right?
WILLIAMS: I played tournaments at nine. In my first junior match, I got a default, actually my first three. I was crying, and my sisters were teasing me in the car and saying, oh, you won so fast. All I wanted to do was play a match. When I finally got to play, I was so excited.
KING: Do you remember what it was about tennis that you liked?
WILLIAMS: My parents started me. I didn't think. I just played.
KING: Did you golf?
WILLIAMS: Never golfed. Never golfed. That wasn't in the equation.
WILLIAMS: I did swim. I don't think very well.
KING: We're going to hear a song written by Bill Cosby about Venus when LARRY KING LIVE returns.
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KING: That is a cut from "State of Emergency," a hip-hop album released by my guy Bill Cosby. He co-wrote the lyrics. The song was "Where's the Parade?" And it aims to honor black women of achievement like you and your sister. What are your feelings about that?
WILLIAMS: I had no idea that song was out there. I was just bobbing my head.
KING: You didn't know about that song?
WILLIAMS: No, never heard it?
KING: it's a tribute to you.
WILLIAMS: I'll have to buy it on iTunes and stuff.
KING: Do you know Bill Cosby?
WILLIAMS: Yes, I know Bill Cosby. I watched all of his things growing up.
KING: He wrote that.
WILLIAMS: Yes, one of my favorites is "Fat Albert."
KING: Do you see yourself as a role model?
WILLIAMS: Do I see myself as a role model? I represent my family and myself, and I would never want to do anything that would make me embarrassed. So I guess in a way that's definitely a role model.
KING: Don't you think young girls, black and white, all over look up to you? And young people starting in tennis.
WILLIAMS: That's what a lot of people have told me, and that makes me really happy, actually, because growing up I was aiming to go out there and win these big titles and do that for myself. But at the end, I was able to do something beyond myself and more than myself. That starts to be a great feeling.
KING: Are doubles harder?
WILLIAMS: Are doubles?
KING: Doubles tennis, harder?
WILLIAMS: Actually, for me, yes. Because I feel like I have restrictions.
KING: You didn't do the whole court?
WILLIAMS: Yes, and if you hit it in the wrong place, you just kill your partner. Then you feel bad. When you make mistakes, you just feel -- I feel embarrassed. I feel like I let my sister down.
KING: You and your sister seem to work well together, obviously.
WILLIAMS: Oh, yes, we work well together.
KING: It's possible that two great tennis players would not be a doubles team.
WILLIAMS: Yes, unless you're born in the same family. I think there's a lot of other people -- not a lot, but there are siblings. A lot of times they don't play together. I guess it's just too much of a crazy dynamic. But we're so close that we just help each other and encourage each other.
KING: You're going to be in the Beijing Olympics, your sister too, right?
WILLIAMS: Yes, we are. We're so excited. We had great results in Sydney. We didn't get a chance to come to Athens, so we're going to try to bring home gold for the U.S. We're pretty excited.
KING: When you're playing in the Olympics, does that feel different than a Wimbledon? Do you feel like you're representing a country?
WILLIAMS: Most definitely. For everything from the opening ceremonies to trading pins with athletes. I was a big pin trader in my time. I don't know about this year, but just the sense of togetherness with your teammates is awesome.
KING: Your dad says he thinks you could be a champ -- you're what, 28? He thinks he could be a champion until you're 34. Do you agree that?
WILLIAMS: I agree with that. Thanks, dad. I definitely would like to play at least one more Olympics. By that time, if it's all said and done, and I've got another gold and a few more Wimbledons, I will not complain.
KING: You're the focus of a terrific new book. We've been showing some stills from it, shot by Koto Bolofo. We've shown some pictures during this interview. Are you aware of how great a photographer he is and what that means? That book is extraordinary.
WILLIAMS: He is amazing. We spent time traveling together all over the world, a lot of times one on one, sometimes with a team. We'd just take pictures. Sometimes, it was just him and me and my mom. We'd go to a bazaar in Turkey and take pictures. It was an essay about this vintage tennis player, but also what he saw in his head in me. It was really by chance. He saw me walking down the street one day, and said, I want to photograph that girl. It became a magazine spread, to this beautiful book.
More than anything, I have a friendship with him. I respect him as a person. It came out wonderful. KING: And we want to congratulate you, you're the only woman nominated in best championship performance category for the Espy awards, which will be shown, I think, Sunday night. It honors a good friend of mine, the late Arthur Ashe. That's a nice honor for you, the Espy.
WILLIAMS: Yes, it is. I would love to win another Espy. That would be great. If not, I know someone else that got it that performed a little better than me, do a little better next time.
KING: Couple of other things; do you think you could help Serena beat you? Is there some things you could teach her to make her play you better?
WILLIAMS: No, it would be breaking the laws of competition. I can't tell her how to beat me. So we practice against each other. Isn't that enough?
KING: Let me ask you this. Do you know certain ways she could beat you?
WILLIAMS: I would say that I'm invincible, for anyone listening.
KING: By the way, you're a wealthy young woman and deservedly so. And I hear that sometimes you fly coach. Why?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, with how expensive gas is and airline tickets, prices go up. I just --
KING: You can afford it. You could buy the plane.
WILLIAMS: I go between. No, I couldn't buy the plane, but I go between both classes, and I'll fly anywhere. I'm not picky, you know, as long as we get there safe.
KING: Ted Turner used to say, the back gets there the same as the front.
WILLIAMS: Most certainly.
KING: Venus, my congratulations to you. You're a great credit to your sport.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
KING: Go to our Web site, CNN.com/larryking, and sign up for our newsletters or text alerts. Either way, you'll get notified about our guests and topics. We've got a special Venus Williams quick vote too. That's CNN.com/larryking.
Right now to New York, Anderson Cooper and "A.C. 360" -- Anderson?