Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Air Disaster

If you've traveled by air within the past year, and gotten where you were going on time, congratulations.  The likelihood of that happening is getting less likely by the day. And the greater the number of delays, the less likely you are to get an explanation for why your life has just been thrown out of whack.  So let me just jump to a few conclusions....

Flights diverted to "nearby" airports during inclement weather -- Planes are not being gassed up to capacity anymore, in order to save some bucks flying with a lighter gas tank.  Yes, I believe that back in the day we saw far fewer instances of planes having to land at another airport and wait out a storm -- or wait in line to refuel.  Don't get me wrong; I am not advocating flying around in circles on fumes waiting for the storm to pass.  Just start off with a full tank, the way I do when I'm making a long trip.

Cancelled flights -- Don't have enough passengers to make a big enough profit?  Just cancel the whole thing, and squeeze people in elsewhere.  These days, you can get passengers to wait for hours for a flight anyway; why not just put them on a later half-full flight?

The other neat reason for cancelling a flight is that the aircraft is having mechanical problems.  Maybe the problems were noted as the plane arrived on a wing and a prayer, or it may be that the plane just didn't pass the pre-flight inspection.  Our friends on the right-wing side of the political aisle (no pun intended) might think that the problem is too many regulations.  Myself, I'd prefer the airlines just keep their planes in top condition.  Is that too much to expect from companies that take hundreds of dollars for a couple-hour use of a seat in the air?

Waiting for take-off -- Remember it wasn't so long ago when the media reported with horror people being forced to remain in an airplane for hours waiting to take off?  Well, now it's just business as usual.  Sitting on a runway for over an hour?  Consider yourself lucky if every 15 minutes or so the pilot gets on the intercom and tells you what number you are in line.

Back in the day when people were paid what they were worth to do such an incredibly important job as fly planes, or manage flights, or keep airplanes in top condition, we could expect the planes to run on time.  But here in 2012, it's okay for the CEO to whine about profits, and then, in the name of same, cut costs to the edge of disaster.  In the case of big containers of people many thousands of feet in the air, the edge of disaster is a very real and frightening consideration. So it is regulations, of all things, that prevent planes daily crashing.  But they don't make the planes safe, they just keep the ones that are not safe on the ground.  And regulations don't make airports run efficiently; in fact, by preventing dangerous planes from taking off, regulations increase delays.  Or at least provide a good excuse for the airline industry when explaining why hundreds of people can no longer plan on starting a vacation, attending a conference, or even making a connecting flight (that the airlines scheduled).  

What to do about this?  I believe the solution is to let the federal government take over the airlines.  No more for-profit.  No more boards to keep happy with inflated stock prices.  And then vote people in that will fund the airlines, and the necessary employees.  Basically, exactly what they need to do with Amtrak.  Which, by the way, now has an on-time record that beats the airlines.

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