Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A New Perspective On Air Travel Woes Gained From Sitting In The Peanut Gallery

We all know what a terrible, awful summer it is for flying. I know from firsthand whippings; I have had my time in the barrel just like everyone else who's been to an airport recently.

But, thankfully, I have not been subjected to more such torture since mid-June.

Mind you, the first two weeks of June were bad enough! Then, due to family business matters, I had to get off the road until July 28th.

I freely acknowledge not feeling a bit guilty about sitting in the peanut gallery munching popcorn while watching one airline and airport meltdown after another unfold since mid-June. Never once did I regret not being in the thick of things at LaGuardia or O'Hare when all hell broke loose.

One doesn't have to look far to get a feel for what's happening out there in air travel land. For example, here's an excerpt from Scott McCarthy's "Middle Seat" column in the July 17th edition of the WALL STREET JOURNAL:

"June was one of the worst months in U.S. history for flight delays, according to a preliminary count by the Federal Aviation Administration, and it may end up having been the worst of all time.

"Canceled flights last month more than doubled -- 20,301 flights never got off the ground, according to flight-tracking service, compared with 8,710 from the same month last year. More than 30% of all flights scheduled to land in the U.S. for the 40 largest airlines arrived late in June, with an average delay of 62 minutes. Hundreds of thousands of travelers were left waiting for hours, even days.

"Why? More storms and too many jets, a recipe for cancellations and long delays. Add an occasional problem with Canadian airspace crucial to Northeast traffic, airline cutbacks, a bit of finger-pointing between the FAA and airlines plus a labor dispute or two, and you have a summer travel nightmare. ...

"Airlines say the FAA isn't handling enough traffic to satisfy the country's growing travel demand, while the agency contends airlines have created trouble for themselves by flooding key airports with more flights.

"The 40 airlines tracked by FlightStats scheduled 14% more flights in June than in the same month last year, and that doesn't take into account increased flying by corporate jets and cargo haulers. Most of the airline increase came from fast-growing regional airlines that fly small jets and turboprops, feeding airline hubs and replacing big-plane flights with multiple trips by smaller, cheaper airplanes. ..."

Sure, we very frequent flyers KNOW all this already. Joe Brancatelli is our standard-bearer, and he trumpets with perfect pitch the sad, bad news about the horrors we face on virtually EVERY flight now.

My point is, though, that all the mainstream print and electronic media, including the WSJ, the NYT, and USA Today, are now filling more column inches and more broadcast minutes than ever before with unvarnished true horror stories about flying, too. It's not just the tried, true, and trusted expertise of Joe Brancatelli; it's a cacophony of media voices from the gilded brands telling America (and us) how bad flying really has become. Everyone across the land now knows this is a baaaad summer to be in the air.

And for the first time in a very long time, I am (briefly) not in that day-to-day maelstrom of the flying experience. Instead, I am sitting on the sidelines, spectating. Like most of America.

And, folks, it's an interesting perspective. Truth is, I don't think anyone cares that much about how awful flying is.

Oh sure, there are certainly a few tsk-tsks, head-shakes, and mumbles about it--I've witnessed such sympathy among my non-flying friends. But even with record numbers of people flying, there are 300 million of us in the USA now. A lot of people don't go to the airport much or ever, and it just doesn't affect them. So they watch or read the reports, and then they go on with their lives. Just as if nothing happened.

And then nothing does happen, because very few of us are complaining.

Well, let's face it: The American public has a point. Why should they care that much? As miserable as flying is, it's a walk in the park compared to true horrors like the war in Iraq. Hell, flying is not even on par with the terrible human miseries caused by our badly flawed American healthcare system (which Michael Moore's movie, SICKO, is shedding a wickedly bright light on).

In the few weeks that I have been grounded, I've come to the startling conclusion that there is no national will to tackle the root causes of our broken air travel system (many of which contributing issues are mentioned above in the Scott McCarthy excerpt).

Want proof? Hmm, let's think. Has even ONE of the two dozen or so Democratic or Republican presidential wannabees speechified about how they plan to fix the air travel mess. Not as far as I know.

As bad it seems to us who fly all the time, it's just not a big mainstream issue...yet. Maybe it won't ever be. I fear that only an air event involving fatalities will jolt the powers and influencers into meaningful action. Of course I pray nothing like that ever happens.

Meantime, however, the busted air travel system doesn't affect many people most of the time. It doesn't have the immediate and ongoing impact of, say, rising gas prices. Therefore, media heralding the summer's air travel agonies probably won't get too many butts off the couch to call their Congresspersons or to complain to their airline CEOs. And improvements won't happen soon in any case.

So when I go back to the airport next week, it will be with a new perspective: As bad as things are, they just aren't that bad. I must inculcate this realization into the travel mantra that helps to keep me sane and happy while on the road.


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