I love traveling. I don’t love flying, but I don’t mind it either, mainly because airline travel in the U.S. is so massively screwed up that I’ve moved beyond simple frustration and into the sphere of: a) being amused at nice, calm, guy-next-door personalities who become absolute monsters in airports, and b) being intrigued at why, exactly, flying is such a pain for so many, and whether there are business opportunities to solve these pains.
James Fallows, excellent journalist for the Atlantic and good blogger, recently called this Salon article by Patrick Smith "the most realistic description of the air-travel mess" he’s read in the press. Coming from a pilot and serious aviation follower, I took note and read Smith’s piece carefully. It’s fantastic and I highly recommend any regular traveler read it.
The big takeaway from Smith’s piece is that many of the usual culprits like bad weather or antiquated air traffic control systems are not as important as one might think. Rather, it’s a chronic lack of runways and nutty scheduling systems. Add to this increasing reliance on regional jets, and we have hundreds of planes competing for limited gate space and even more limited taxi area. Smith offers a few suggestions but says he isn’t optimistic that more runways will magically be built, or airlines will start patronizing satellite airports (Oakland instead of SFO, Long Beach instead of LAX). His hope, then, is that airlines consolidate schedules by reducing the number of small regional jets which can take off during peak hours. Read the whole thing.
As Smith says, despite all the complaints, we still have much to be thankful for. Commercial flying is still the safest mode of transit by far (which is why people who drive instead of fly for "safety reasons" are crazy). Anyone who’s flown a Russian airliner, or experienced the decrepitude that is an Air India plane, or tried to form a queue for a China Southern Air flight (queues don’t exist — it’s just one big brawl), knows what I’m talking about.
I expect my interest in travel and business will lead to me to do something in the travel industry. I wonder if there’s an opportunity to build one big community travel web site. Or maybe there’s something that can be done to make Philly or La Guardia airports less of a dump. Or educate TSA staff beyond a 6th grade level. Or invest in air taxis. Who knows.
In the meantime, I’ll keep flying, keep traveling, keep studying flight routes (I love studying how one gets from point A to point B in the sky), keep reading Joe Sharkey, keep studying SeatGuru and other community web sites, and one day, try to contribute to the improvement of an industry which — love it or hate it — will only grow more important in an interconnected, global economy.