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Terminal Chaos 511

Posted by samzenpus
from the fly-the-confusing-skies dept.
Ben Rothke writes "While Terminal Chaos should be shelved in the current events or business section of a bookstore, it could also be placed in the modern crime section. After reading it, one gets the impression that the state of air traffic today could only come due to criminal neglect or mischief. If one looks at pictures of airline flights from the 1960s, you will see well-dressed passengers enjoying their flight. In 2008, barely a day goes by without an incident of air rage, from irate passengers in the terminal, to those in the air causing flights to be diverted. Today's airline traveler considers it a near miracle if his flight arrives on time with his baggage." Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.
Terminal Chaos: Why U.S. Air Travel Is Broken and How to Fix It
author George Donohue and Russell Shaver
pages 240
publisher Amer Inst of Aeronautics
rating 10
reviewer Ben Rothke
ISBN 978-1563479496
summary Fascinating look at the current state and problems with the US air traffic system
The reasons for the meltdown in the air traffic system are complex. The book names a number of reasons for today's chaos. Some of these include airline deregulation, multiple governmental agencies with no central oversight or responsibility, multiple corporate entities with conflicting agendas, an air traffic controllers union resisting change, a technologically outdated air traffic control system, and more.

While the public perception in the US is that somewhere out there, government officials are looking out for passenger's rights, the reality is there is no one looking out for them. Unlike their European counterparts, air travelers in the US have very few rights. This lack of passenger advocacy along with the other reasons has a huge impact on the economy, in addition to the costs that flight delays and cancellations cost U.S. travelers, which are estimated annually at over $3 billion.

Terminal Chaos: Why U.S. Air Travel Is Broken and How to Fix It is a fascinating book. The authors show a number of ways to fix the current problems. While the book is part case-study, it is also part tragedy, given the tragedy is that Washington lacks anyone with the pragmatism, willpower and audacity to stand up to the unions and powers that be to fix the system. The book lays out in 7 concise chapters the problems, ringleaders, obstacles and challenges that brought us to the state that we are in today.

The authors sum it up best when they note that the distance from New York to Chicago is 635 nautical miles, and when flown by a piston-powered DC-6 with a cruise speed of 315 MPH over 50 years ago, the scheduled flight time was a little longer than two hours. Today, scheduled airlines fly Boeing 737 turbofans at 511 MPH, but book this as a 3-hour flight.

In chapter 4, the authors note that while some flight delays are the result of post-9/11 security issues, the main reason why flying has become so arduous is that the air transportation system, as it is now structured in the US, is untenable from a fundamental business point of view. The government regulated business model is unstable and irrational and planes are purposely overbooked, flights are cancelled for no publicly explainable reason, and no one will offer the flier a sound reason for why these events occur.

Both authors are professors at the Center for Air Transportation Systems research at George Mason University. The book quotes from research done there, which includes suggestions such as to use larger aircraft (something Continental is doing at Newark), along with other market mechanisms. Other research shows that slot exemption, weight-based landing fees and other issues combine to lead to inefficient use of airport capacity, especially as slot-controlled airports, such as O'Hare, Kennedy, Newark, LaGuardia and Atlanta.

In chapter 6, the authors take a no-holds barred approach to NATCA, which is the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. They view NATCA as a stumbling block to modernization, and an organization whose goal is to protect their members, over the public they are supposed to serve. They also question how NATCA gets away with constantly stating that the US air traffic control system is the safest in the world, when it is actually behind Europe when it comes to safety metrics (Europe has .032 hull losses per 1 million departures vs. .049 in North America).

Ultimately, the book notes that the air traffic control problems exist in the fact that there is a perfect storm of airlines, airports, government agencies (FAA, DOT, OMB, DHS), White House and Congress, all of which seem to believe that they don't have the responsibility to fix the problem. Each seems to be waiting for someone else to take charge.

Chapter 7 lists a number of practical ways in which the air traffic control system can be modernized. Some of the suggestions would require significant financial outlays; others simply require all of the parties involved to play nicely together.

Overall, Terminal Chaos is a landmark book, in that it cuts through the complexity of the air traffic mess, and clearly lays out the problem, and possible solutions.

It is a very well-written and extremely well-researched book. It does have a few slight errors. Most noticeably on page 73 when it says that Continental has been in and out of bankruptcy court, while the table on the next page shows that Continental has been out of bankruptcy court for over 15 years. Also, one of the travel tips the authors give is to have a traveler consider using a private aircraft out of smaller, less congested airports. That is indeed a good suggestion, albeit extremely costly, and not financially feasible for most of the flying public.

Terminal Chaos is a book that should be required reading for anyone involved in air traffic and aviation, from passengers to every employee at the FAA. The authors have innovative ideas that should be listened to and implemented; from holding the government decision-makers responsible, to realistic ways to modernizing the air traffic control system. The book is a fascinating overview of what goes on in the skies above us, and in the air traffic control towers around us.

Ben Rothke is the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know.

You can purchase Terminal Chaos: Why U.S. Air Travel Is Broken and How to Fix It from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Terminal Chaos

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  • Back in the day... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:15PM (#23937293)
    Airline passengers were the very wealthy elites, now they're not.
    • by trolltalk.com (1108067) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:29PM (#23937499) Homepage Journal

      Airline passengers were the very wealthy elites, now they're not.

      High fuel prices will keep the riff-raff out.

      Seriously, the week after the grounding of all flights, the air was clearer than it has been in decades. We really have to cut back on useless air travel - it's a "luxury" our children will be paying for, and cursing us for. Take a train, take a boat, take some TIME and enjoy it - getting there is supposed to be half the fun.

      • by russotto (537200) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:38PM (#23937665) Journal

        Take a train, take a boat, take some TIME and enjoy it - getting there is supposed to be half the fun.

        Whoever said that never traveled through the midwest or the great plains. Or across an ocean.

        My time is a severely limited quantity; taking a week for a trip which would take a day (on both ends) by air means a lot less time at my destination. Taking a boat across the Atlantic or Pacific is right out; even when there was still regular passenger service, it took more than a month to cross the Atlantic.

        • by mapsjanhere (1130359) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:48PM (#23937831)
          Actually it took 5 days in most cases, the SS United States did it in under 4 days in 1952.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Ziest (143204)

          Taking a boat across the Atlantic or Pacific is right out; even when there was still regular passenger service, it took more than a month to cross the Atlantic.

          I'm not sure where you get your information but a transatlantic crossing today is about 6 days. Have a look at cunard.com. My parents are planning to take the Queen Mary 2 from New York to Southampton next summer and the Cunard website says 6 days. If I remember right a transatlantic crossing in the 1890's took 8 or 9 days. Look up RMS Titanic on Wik

        • by Ian Alexander (997430) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:16PM (#23938227)

          My time is a severely limited quantity;
          And yet you're posting on Slashdot. ;)
      • by Steve525 (236741) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:46PM (#23938703)

        Seriously, the week after the grounding of all flights, the air was clearer than it has been in decades. We really have to cut back on useless air travel - it's a "luxury" our children will be paying for, and cursing us for. Take a train, take a boat, take some TIME and enjoy it - getting there is supposed to be half the fun.

        Seriously, you can't be serious. Maybe you are a student with months of vacation a year, but the rest of us simply don't have the time. An hour of air travel (actual flight time) equals a day of travel by other means.

        No air travel for me would mean...
        No vacations further than 2 days car/train travel.
        No conferences or meetings further than 1 day car/train travel.
        Many fewer visits to my parents (although my wife might consider this a good thing).

        That's not to say if prices go way up, people won't adjust. People flew much less in the 60's. Although I don't think we'll get to that point, we will surely see people fly less as costs go up. To expect people to take a major step backward and give it up completely is ridiculous.

        Also, note that air travel fuel efficiency is about 50-100 mpg per passenger. So, having everyone drive around in cars doesn't save anything. Trains, boats, and buses are indeed more efficient.

      • Traveling (Score:4, Interesting)

        by sjbe (173966) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:01PM (#23938939)

        getting there is supposed to be half the fun.
        Unless your goal is specifically to wander (nothing wrong with that) then no, getting there is NOT half the fun. It's not even 1% of the fun. When I visited China I went to see China - not to have "half the fun" on the inside of a 747 and certainly not getting seasick on a boat for several weeks. That prospect does not appeal to me in the slightest.


        I personally don't enjoy the actual act of riding/driving/flying from point A to point B in most cases. I consider it a waste of my time and hence my life. If I want to stop a bunch of places along the way I'd prefer it be intentional. You may feel differently and that's fine. I would like to spend my life doing the things I enjoy, not the things you think I should enjoy. Riding a vehicle somewhere is not what I personally enjoy.

      • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:39PM (#23939553) Journal

        Take a train, take a boat, take some TIME and enjoy it - getting there is supposed to be half the fun.

        Taking a train need not take time. Using the example in the article, if Chicago-New York is 635 nautical miles (=1,175km) then modern trains like the TGV can travel that distance in 4 hours (that is assuming the operating speed of 320km/h, not the max speed of 574.8 km/h). If current flights are scheduled at 3 hours then in this case a train would be far faster since there is no need to arrive 1-2 hours beforehand for your body cavity search plus you start and end at stations which, at least for Chicago, are in the city centre. Other advantages are onboard power, WiFi, cellphone coverage, something to look at out of the window etc.

        It's true that the monetary cost of setting up such a network is not trivial but if you factor in the environmental cost of planes the question you might want to ask is can you afford not to?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Pig Hogger (10379)

        Take a train, take a boat, take some TIME and enjoy it - getting there is supposed to be half the fun.
        To take the train implies the existence of a train. Amtrak offers a pitifuly meaningless "service" in the US (well, outside of the northeast). For people to start to take the train, there would have to be trains to begin with...
    • You just nailed it (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DesScorp (410532)

      Airline passengers were the very wealthy elites, now they're not.

      I work in an airport, and you just nailed the biggest reason for the changes in air travel. Because of deregulation and cheaper air travel technologies, among other things, it's cheaper to fly than it used to be. As another poster puts it, there's a lot more "riff raff" on flights now.

      Of course flying was neater, cleaner, and more pleasant back when only the rich and big business travelers flew. It was essentially a luxury experience back then. Pam Am's Clipper line of flying boats had cuisine and accommod

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:16PM (#23937305)

    Air flight is cheap enough that it has become the trailways bus of today. The reason everything was so nice and dressed up because it was so expensive it selected out the riff-raff.

    I know it doesn't fit the current lefty memes, but deregulation made air flight the everyman's mode of transportation.

    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:00PM (#23937993) Homepage Journal

      It's not just that. For those who have no idea what an absolute mess our airline system is, you can read this book, but for more entertainment value, I also recommend Airframe by Michael Crighton. Yes, it's Crighton's usual stuff -- heavy on technical details, some of which may be flubbed. But he does grasp the complexities of air travel in the U.S. today.

      We have deregulation, which lead to more passengers, more airlines, more competition, cheapter flights, etc. -- but at the same time, we failed to upgrade our infrastructure in a timely fashion. This includes our airports and the planes themselves -- many of which have been in the sky more than twice their intended service life. On top of that, our air-traffic control system is so out of date, it is being featured on an episode of Cavemen.

      Anyway think of it like this: you have a system now that only upper management (aobut 100 users) uses. Now, you intend to open up the system for all 30,000 users in the entire enterprise. But instead of upgrading, management hems and haws about the cost and so you don't upgrade anything except to add couple of new front-end servers, and the backend servers don't get upgraded at all.

      That's what's happened to the airline industry.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ZaskarX (1314327)
      Airlines should take it a step further and make air travel even more spartan (and cheaper), remove the cushy seats and install benches made out of canvas webbing. Rip out all of the sound insulation to make more room and give passengers ear protection when they board. Make passengers pay by weight, you go online and declare your total weight (body and baggage) and pay a price, if you show up and are heavier than what you declared you pay a big penalty . No drinks, mini pretzels, and the minimum number of
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:17PM (#23937323)

    Today's airline traveler considers it a near miracle if his flight arrives on time with his baggage that he was forced to pay extra for.
    There, fixed that for you.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Anecdote of bygone times: Some years back I actually packed in my luggage a spare tire which I had borrowed and was returning. Very large, very heavy bag. The baggage agent demanded to know what it was, gave me some dirty looks, but let it pass (with no extra fee.) I just can't imagine what they'd think and/or charge if someone tried that today.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Opportunist (166417)

        Probably arrest you for bringing such an unusual thing on board or at the very least cut the tire open to make sure you're not hiding some bomb in there.

        You simply do something that's not considered "normal" today and that's enough to warrant a strip search.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:17PM (#23937327) Homepage Journal

    The reason there are so many problems is that the cost is too cheap.
    The price per ticket isn't enough to cover the cost of doing business, so more and more items get cut.
    Boarding because a cattle car types of efficiency, service goes down, everybody becomes rushed, the aircraft become packed, and so on.

    Don't get me wrong, flying 1000 miles for 3 hundred bucks round trip is great, but lets not kid ourselves. If we want service to go back to the 1960s level of service, the costs should at least be as much as it was in 1960s plus inflation and fuel cost increases.

    • by Bearpaw (13080) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:22PM (#23937391)

      If we want service to go back to the 1960s level of service, the costs should at least be as much as it was in 1960s plus inflation and fuel cost increases.

      At which point, it'll be cost-effective to install and operate a nation-wide high-speed passenger and light-cargo rail service network.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        I have my doubts. Rail systems are expensive, and they don't bring the same value to the table as aircraft do. Namely, time.

        They also don't bring to the table what the automobile does. namely, freedom.

        • by EMeta (860558) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:38PM (#23937687)
          Much of the time advantage of rail over plane is lost with the "Please be at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight" requirements.
          • by Ian Alexander (997430) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:27PM (#23938393)
            That _really_ depends on where you are.

            The train from Bellingham, WA to Portland, OR (Google Maps informs me it's 262 miles) takes about seven hours and you need to show up at least twenty minutes early. Call it 7 and a half hours.

            On the other hand, I recently flew from Sea-Tac to Chicago O'Hare (~2,000 miles) in about four hours, plus two hours early for checkin = about 6 hours.
          • by LynnwoodRooster (966895) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:16PM (#23939201) Journal
            As a frequent flyer (like nearly every week, inside the US or internationally), here's a few tips:

            1. Check yourself in electronically - print out your boarding pass at home. That bypasses 30 minutes, easy.
            2. Check your baggage AT THE CURB. Pretty much every major airport in the US will let you check your baggage at the curb. Yes, it costs an extra $3 per bag to do so, but that saves another 15 minutes.
            3. No metal in your pockets, no liquids in your bag. Yes, you can survive without that bottle of water for 10 minutes.
            4. Always choose the security lane with the fewest number of families and old folks. Even if it's longer, you'll get through faster.

            I rarely show up more than 30 minutes before my boarding time, and have yet to NOT be at the gate prior to the start of boarding.

            • by hiryuu (125210) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @04:06PM (#23939995)

              1. Check yourself in electronically - print out your boarding pass at home. That bypasses 30 minutes, easy.

              Another business frequent flyer here (about the same frequency as you cited), and I can say I did this and loved it until my name landed on the no-fly list in October of last year. I've been trying to get off the list since then, with no luck, and have to check in with a live person for every single flight! I can't even use the automated kiosks.

              Arbitrary governmental action has made my work significantly more cumbersome and troublesome for no real benefit, and that has been the single largest impact I've seen.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by stubob (204064)

            Absolutely. Anecdotal evidence from last weekend. I took a trip from Denver to Rapid City, South Dakota to look at the monuments and such. Google Maps says the trip is 400 miles, about 6 hours 30 minutes of drive time.

            Ticket price: $250 a piece for my wife and me. Flight was scheduled to depart at 10 a.m. Left the house at 7 to drive the the airport (45 minutes + parking and walking to the terminal, call it an hour). Check in was pretty easy. I'm on the TSA watch list (still, even after filling out t

        • by Josh Booth (588074) <joshbooth2000@y[ ]o.com ['aho' in gap]> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:41PM (#23937735)

          Yeah, but rail systems rarely made money on moving people. Every long distance hauler is really a way to move cargo, with the government mandating they throw on x number of passenger cars or something. And if you have a good enough system of long-haul, light rail, commuter bus and taxi service, not to mention new things like rentable bikes and publicly shared cars, all synchronized with our brand new internet, then you could get from here to anywhere in a minimal number of hops and cost, while also assuring fairly managed resources. So, like routing packets on the internet.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            So, like routing packets on the internet.
            Finally a thread where a car analogy actually makes sense, and you go and make an Internet analogy.

            For shame.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by rabiddeity (941737)

            So, like routing packets on the internet.

            With the notable exception that you can drop packets on the Internet, and the sender will simply retransmit. In fact, with TCP/IP you are expected to do so. I'd be willing to bet that a large percentage of IP packets are dropped. But with human beings your "packets" are unique tokens which are not retransmittable and cannot be dropped. If the rail lines past Bumfuck, IA are blocked by freight cars or other nonsense, I either have to backtrack creating more traffi

        • by Tuzanor (125152) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:44PM (#23937765) Homepage

          First, nobody said get rid of the automobile.

          Also, high speed rail (300km/h) is already widely deployed in Europe and Japan. And time is where they do shine. I can go from Central Paris to Central London (465) in less than 3 hours. I can board the train 15 minutes before it leaves. To fly, it's an hour to the airport, plus I'd have to arrive at the airport 2 hours early, wait in 3 different queues (check-in, security, boarding) fly for an hour, arrive, wait for my luggage(at least half hour), and then an hour into the city.

          Obviously this is different going from NY to LA, but amongst denser areas of the US (north-east, california) this is feasible within 1000km distances.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Rob Kaper (5960)

            To fly, it's an hour to the airport, plus I'd have to arrive at the airport 2 hours early, wait in 3 different queues (check-in, security, boarding) fly for an hour, arrive, wait for my luggage(at least half hour), and then an hour into the city.

            The two hours rule is only there to spread the queues.

            And you are really showing the worst case scenario. Even at major airports you can easily arrive less than an hour prior to your flight and do a kiosk check-in within five minutes. Security varies (it's worse in

        • by Bearpaw (13080) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:44PM (#23937767)

          I have my doubts. Rail systems are expensive, and they don't bring the same value to the table as aircraft do. Namely, time.

          That's true for cross-country flights, but the comparison is much less lop-sided for closer cities.

          They also don't bring to the table what the automobile does. namely, freedom.

          Apples and rutabagas. Although if rail got the same backing from public funds that autos do ... well. (Also, a lot of that "freedom" is as imaginary as car commercials.)
    • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionar ... m ['hoo' in gap]> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:24PM (#23937405) Journal

      The price per ticket isn't enough to cover the cost of doing business,
      Yeah, but the make up for it in volume.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jd (1658)
        Mostly true, but for how much longer? The Dreamliner is selling surprisingly well, given that it's so tiny, and the Airbus 400 generally isn't. This indicates that the trend towards increased volume has started to reverse. The pressure on airports like Heathrow to add runways is an indication that airliners are aiming to increase the number of flights rather than the number of overall passengers. This is Not Good, for many reasons (air pollution, noise pollution, increased collision risks, etc).
        • SImple (Score:3, Insightful)

          by geekoid (135745)

          There are all holding out as long as they can, and they are hoping most of their competitor go out of business before they do. When there are only 2-3 airline companies left, the prices will shoot up.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) *
      but the title isn't. I thought it was about, you know, terminals. Computer terminals. Those greenish or yellowish screens with letters and numbers.

      I'll just go back to sleep now. (Posted after flying from the Galapagos to Alaska - I don't want to even think about airline terminals right now. And I'm looking at you Miami International "Airport". I'm swimming next time.

    • Exactly. You get what you pay for, and airlines run on ridiculously narrow margins. A modern airliner costs about the same as a skycraper. Then factor in that you have a fleet of hundreds of these, each taking on tens of thousands of gallons of fuel, and that the whole thing is still easily susceptible to the weather, and you realize taht economic disaster is far more likely than success.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by c_jonescc (528041)
      Those that do pay for service get it. I fly enough that I get moved to first class a few times a year, and most of these frustrations go out the window when your ticket is worth 5x the other passengers. The airlines mark your bag with a 'priority' badge to make sure it doesn't go missing; you're the first on the plane (and have coffee in hand before the rest of the seats know if they're being bumped) and the first off; you have one attendant for roughly a dozen people in some cases, while the back of the
  • union problem? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by belmolis (702863) <`billposer' `at' `alum.mit.edu'> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:20PM (#23937379) Homepage

    While I don't dispute that unions are sometimes a problem, I wonder how much the union is to blame in this case. One hears regular reports of understaffing and impossible work conditions for air traffic controllers, and these seem quite plausible given what an intricate and high-stress job it is together with the antiquated computer systems they have to use, which don't provide very good support. Back in 1980 the main issue in the air traffic controllers' strike was working conditions, not wages and benefits. When Reagan broke the union and fired the air traffic controllers, wasn't that a huge blow to reform?

    • Re:union problem? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mbone (558574) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:27PM (#23937479)

      The Union is not and was not the problem in this case. In 1981 the Union was right and Reagan was very lucky that there wasn't a major air disaster because of his actions. As was the case for basically every action of that Administration, ideology triumphed over both reality and common sense.

      • Re:union problem? (Score:4, Informative)

        by NullProg (70833) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:57PM (#23939823) Homepage Journal

        The Union is not and was not the problem in this case. In 1981 the Union was right and Reagan was very lucky that there wasn't a major air disaster because of his actions. As was the case for basically every action of that Administration, ideology triumphed over both reality and common sense.

        Are we rewriting history again?

        1) Federal Employees, which Air Traffic Controllers are, cannot legally strike.
        2) There wasn't a disaster because Reagan shifted Military Controllers into the FAA positions. Supervisors and non-striking controllers took up the rest of the slack.
        3) I would say a $30 billion a year tax generating revenue stream triumphed over the ATC Union desire of a 32-Hour work week for more money.

        Just like the Soviets, the ATC Union thought Reagan was bluffing. He wasn't.

        Enjoy,

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bearpaw (13080)

      Back in 1980 the main issue in the air traffic controllers' strike was working conditions, not wages and benefits. When Reagan broke the union and fired the air traffic controllers, wasn't that a huge blow to reform?

      Seems like it might've been, yup.

      They also question how NATCA gets away with constantly stating that the US air traffic control system is the safest in the world, when it is actually behind Europe when it comes to safety metrics (Europe has .032 hull losses per 1 million departures vs. .049 in North America).

      They get away with it because it's a tradition that practically no-one questions. All you have to do is say "The US is the bestest in the world when it comes to [x]" and few people bother checking. (Except "America-haters", of course.)

    • Re:union problem? (Score:4, Informative)

      by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:35PM (#23938509) Homepage Journal
      Wasn't the decade after that the worst ever for Airline accidents in the US? The problem isn't that the Air Traffic Controllers are resistant to change because they're afraid of losing their job, it's that the FAA is pathologically risk averse. That's the primary reason it's taking so long for ADS-B to get deployed, because any change could mean a change which could mean danger. It's impossible in the FAA to change the brand of coffee you make without a 2 year investigation.
  • If one looks at pictures of airline flights from the 1960s, you will see well-dressed passengers enjoying their flight.

    I beg to differ! [wikipedia.org].

    In any case, some of it is probably just a reaction to more modern events and mindsets. Nowadays, instead of "Oh, it's a distraught passenger who doesn't like flying" it's "OMGTERRORIST". Airlines overbooking flights and employing shoddy baggage handling techniques doesn't help anything either.

  • by saunabad (664414)
    Airlines? For a moment I thought the title was about utf-8 and scandinavian alphabet configuration mayhem in terminal emulators.
  • by mbone (558574) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:25PM (#23937435)

    I fly every week, I have never seen a case of air rage, and I have never lost a bag. I think that the case is over stated.

    It is true that there are too many small flights, which waste both gas and airport slots. But the overall system works decently well IMHO.

  • Security theater (Score:4, Informative)

    by A beautiful mind (821714) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:28PM (#23937489)
    If I'd be forced to guess I would say that the security theater methods actually increase violence on the plane, due to people getting annoyed and doing stupid things. Therefor this security measure might actually cost lives, instead of saving them.
  • Don't rabid anti-smoking laws even get acknowledged?

    When you talk about irritable passengers, you have to at least give a nod to the two pack a day man who has to go without a fix from the time he arrives at the airport until he departs. Maybe he'll get lucky and he can go sit in the bullet-proof glassed room with it's own ventilation system, but even that has to annoy him quite a bit.

    Isn't there a lot of tobacco use in the Mideast? Are we really sure that terrorism isn't just a form of protesting the l

  • But I was at the airport this morning dropping off a friend who was getting on a US Airways flight to the States. It turns out that you now have to pay $25 for the second check-in bag, where before both were free of charge as long as they were under 50lb.

    The more the goddamn airlines nickel and dime us to death, the less we'll fly, and the less money they'll make. Hello vicious circle. And screw the damn airlines. I haven't enjoyed getting on a plane since the early 80s when I proudly flew Braniff...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by maxume (22995)

      I'd much rather they charge people with 2 bags more than they charge me and my 1 bag than I would they charge everybody the same.

      The pricing structure of 2007 is not compatible with the fuel prices of 2008; charging Mr. 2 bags is not nickel and diming, it is staying in business.

  • safety comparison (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms@infa[ ]s.net ['mou' in gap]> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:33PM (#23937579) Homepage

    when [the U.S.] is actually behind Europe when it comes to safety metrics (Europe has .032 hull losses per 1 million departures vs. .049 in North America).

    You've gone from an argument about the U.S. to cite statistics from North America - which, as you may have noticed, contains other nations. And you've not taken into account differences of flight distances or number of passengers per flight; I would think a much more useful number would be deaths per passenger-mile.

    If you're directly quoting an argument from the book, this puts s large hole in its credibility.

  • by ScentCone (795499) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:33PM (#23937589)
    barely a day goes by without an incident of air rage

    That's because 40 years ago, someone who started pitching a violent and/or profane fit in close quarters where other people had paid for a service (like watching a movie or traveling for a few hours) could reasonably expect a sound thumping from someone willing to shut them up. And no jury in the world would give the person doing the thumping a hard time. Shame used to be a useful tool. There was a time when acting like an ass in public carried with it a certain stigma. Now it's celebrated in the news, and is a point of pride in many a music video. This is simply about bad manners made the norm, and a culture of victimhood-as-virtue that provides cover for every mis-step (including the deliberate variety), and which condems anyone looking to deny someone that cover as being somehow cruel. We've become a coddling culture, and this is the price we pay. It's no mystery. Every one of those screaming kids you see in the grocery store today will become the asshat in seat 30B on your flight to Chicago.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

      Every one of those screaming kids you see in the grocery store today will become the asshat in seat 30B on your flight to Chicago.
      Or the asshat working for the TSA. [youtube.com]
    • by dirkbaztard (1297993) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:08PM (#23938101)
      Yeah! That's what we need. Let's thaw out The Duke, and let him and John Cassavetes, and Lee Marvin, and Charles Bronson, and Clint Eastwood, and Chuck Norris be on all the flights they can cover. That will make air travel safer and more enjoyable. At least on those flights.
  • Idiotic Nostalgia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by netsavior (627338) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:41PM (#23937737)

    If one looks at pictures of airline flights from the 1960s, you will see well-dressed passengers enjoying their flight.

    In 1950 an airline ticket was $325... or about $2800 adjusted for today's dollars... So there was a slightly different class of people

    additionally there were significantly LESS people per flight, per terminal, and per airline.

    Maybe a better comparison would be modern Airlines to 1960s busses.
  • by Plugh (27537) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:44PM (#23937781) Homepage
    ... what can be safely explained by bumbling bureaucratic government incompetence.
  • Airplane! (Score:3, Funny)

    by flahwho (1243110) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:12PM (#23938167)
    "...The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn't have fish for dinner!"
  • by fm6 (162816) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:12PM (#23938173) Homepage Journal

    OK, air travel has become a horror. But "criminal neglect"? It's not "criminal" that passengers are miserable. "Criminal" would be planes falling out of the sky. But in fact you're safer flying across the country than you are driving to work. Or, if you believe some statistics, brushing your teeth.

    I used to love flying; now you couldn't get me on a plane without putting a gun to my head. But as long as people make their travel decisions based primarily on price, airlines have no incentive to make things better. I wouldn't argue with a few protective laws and regulations, but airlines' failure to unilaterally improve things in a hypercompetitive market is a matter of economics, not "criminal neglect".

  • by backwardMechanic (959818) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:07PM (#23939043) Homepage

    ...air traffic controllers union resisting change, a technologically outdated air traffic control system...
    Air traffic controllers are a very conservative bunch. They don't like change. They like to test things *heavily* before putting them into regular use. I like it that way.

    I briefly worked in ATC research. Whatever neat computer system the scientists came up with, the controllers would look at and say "what do we do when it fails?". And they're serious. If the radars go down they can manage a sector by memory and radio comms. It's very impressive. There are lots of shiney new technology-based answers that just aren't reliable enough. The trouble is, too many people are flying.

Never test for an error condition you don't know how to handle. -- Steinbach

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