June 7, 2019
Warner Session is chairman of the board for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
When it comes to airline travel, Warner Session doesn’t have too many pet peeves. That is, unless the person seated in front of him decides to lean their seat back.
“I always get what I call the leaners,” Session says, laughing. Really, who can blame him? There’s a lot that can go wrong with transportation and Session has heard it all as chairman of the board for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. An attorney by trade, Session joined the board in 2011 and considers his role a labor of love as MWAA helps to oversee not only projects at Dulles International and Reagan National airports, but also the Dulles Toll Road and the ongoing expansion of Metro’s Silver Line.
You were raised in California. How did you end up in Greater Washington? After I graduated Stanford, I came back east to go to law school at Georgetown. I had no intention of staying, but here I am 40 years later. I started in the political arena, working for the D.C. Council.
Where did you go after politics? I started my own practice, now Session Law Firm. I always had an entrepreneurial instinct and having worked on the Hill, I made an incredible amount of contacts.
What’s been the focus of your practice? I’ve worked with a lot of federal agencies on their small business programs. I like seeing businesses grow and working with them as they enter the federal arena and all the challenges that comes with trying to do business with the government. I still have a government contracting focus, but I do represent medium- and large-sized companies as well.
How would you describe yourself as a boss? I’m an easy boss. I delegate. It’s pretty easy because I have just one full-time employee.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into politics or law? Do it. Even though politics is sometimes bad, it’s good to be part of the process. Policies influence our lives in every way.
What sparked your interest in transportation and aviation? When I was working for a member of Congress, we had an oversight subcommittee that she chaired on transportation. We had jurisdiction over the Federal Aviation Administration. The most interesting thing we had oversight of was the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie.
How did you come to serve on the MWAA board? I was originally appointed in 2011 by Mayor Vincent Gray. I was reappointed in 2017 for a six-year term. There is so much to know. You ever see that movie, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles?” Because that’s what we are. Not only do we run two airports, we’re managing construction of the Silver Line and we operate the Dulles Toll Road. Planes, trains and automobiles.
What’s one of your top concerns for MWAA right now? Cybersecurity is something we’re always mindful of. I just came back from a conference where they were talking about drones and autonomous vehicles. Part of the challenge is leaning into the future.
People love to complain about air travel. How do you handle that? Part of the challenge is the traveling public doesn’t always know the separation between what’s controlled by an airline, an airport and the federal government. If your bag is late, it’s genuinely not the airport’s fault. If there’s a noise complaint, that’s the FAA that controls the airspace.
What’s the project you’re most looking forward to completing? Finishing the Silver Line. And Project Journey here at Reagan where we’re building a new terminal. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of gate 35X, but that’s going away.
Are there any airports you admire? I’m always looking at their concession offerings and what they’re doing in terms of innovation. San Francisco has taken a lead on sustainability and making sure the vehicles that operate around the airport are operating on clean fuel. I’ve heard Singapore has an amazing airport.
How do you spend your free time? We like to go to the movies. I have season tickets to the Nationals.
You live in Shaw. What do you like about your neighborhood. The walkability. I hang out at Matchbox. And there’s a little coffee shop right across the street that I go to every day.
You also serve with several nonprofits? I serve on the boards of the Thurgood Marshall Center Trust and the Butler Wyatt Clubhouse No. 2.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in D.C. since you’ve lived here? The growth. D.C. is going through a renaissance. You can go to almost any part of the city and get your food, your entertainment, all your amenities right there.
What challenges come with that growth? Clearly it’s affordable housing. And when I say affordable, I mean not just for truly low-income residents, but middle incomes. Professionals are being priced out because the values are going up so much.
What keeps you motivated? It’s all adrenaline. I do drink lots of coffee. That and adrenaline.
Are you a morning person? Just this morning, it was 6:30 in the morning and I was already feeling rushed. I usually get up between 5:30 and 6. I use the first half-hour for quiet time, meditation, reading. Just to get myself centered for the day. My day doesn’t end at 5 p.m. I have so many evening events.
Chairman of the board, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority; principal, Session Law Firm PC
Family: Wife Jennifer
First job: Mopping the floor at my neighborhood convenience store