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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No place like home

The news business likes evergreen stories -- trusted old friends you can trot out every year like the start of new season -- beaches open, back-to-school and "Black Friday" as the start of the holiday shopping season.

And the chaos that defines travel around Thanksgiving. Notes the Boston Globe:
An estimated 27 million passengers are expected to fly US airlines during a 12-day period that includes Thanksgiving week - the busiest travel period of the year. That's 4 percent higher than the number of air travelers during the same period last year, according to the Air Transport Association. And if recent months are any indication, the start to this year's holiday travel season, which runs roughly through New Year's, could be one of the most frustrating for flyers: Fares are up. Planes are fuller. And more and more passengers are being bumped.
The simple question is why. The likelihood of crowded plans around the holidays is a definite perennial. Airlines know they are going to have increased passenger loads. They also know they can control for just about every variable except the weather.

So why are there not enough airplanes to take the people where they want to go? After all, this is the country that likes to brag it could send men to the moon and back. What's so hard about sending Mom, Dad, Jessie and Susie (and their luggage) to Dallas and back?

For several (recent) years we had the excuse of struggling airlines. Reeling from losses caused by the lapses of the entire industry on 9-11, we were told those poor companies were barely keeping their heads above water. Mergers and bankruptcies flowed like Scotch in a Northwest cockpit.

Funny thing, the airlines are now profitable, despite soaring fuel prices. So what else is to blame?

Tighter security? Sure it takes additional time to make sure people don't sneak those 3.5-ounce bottles of shampoo past vigilant Transportation Security Agency personnel. And while London Heathrow can get you through security with little frustration, you put up with the inefficiency because, well, because, I guess.

Airlines don't help the cause by trying to send out every flight on 9 a.m. from every airport across the nation.

But there has to be more to it. Particularly in a crunch period like Thanksgiving, why can't airlines meet the demand they know will be intense?

A big part of the reason is the federal government. From an antiquated flight control system using computers less powerful than the one I am typing on, the Federal Aviation Administration has proven incapable or unwilling to enter the 21st Century.

Then there is the matter of inadequate airspace. I'm as gung-ho as the next person to make sure our military is adequately trained to, but why are vast amounts of air space off limits to commercial jets to accommodate training flights that don't necessarily need to use that space 24-7-365.

And of course, all those planes that take off at the same time must also land.

It's incredible to ponder how this problem has eluded solution all these years. Then again, maybe it's not, given how many other things have gone wrong in recent years.

As for me, that small turkey in the oven looks a lot better than that big turkey in the middle seat next to me.

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