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Terminal Chaos 511

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corporate entities with conflicting agendas, an air traffic controllers union resisting change, a technologically outdated air traffic control system, and more.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 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.

  • union problem? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer@a l u m . m it.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?

  • 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 ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) * on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:24PM (#23937417) Homepage
    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Re:union problem? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:29PM (#23937521)

    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.)
  • safety comparison (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <tmsNO@SPAMinfamous.net> 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.
  • 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 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 c_jonescc ( 528041 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:40PM (#23937721)
    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 plane has only two; you're served a full meal that's actually edible (sometimes), instead of paying for pretzels.

    And, with pushes for special security lines for the frequent flyers, or just plane rich, the primary frustration of flying will diminish too - all for a cost.

    There is that level of service, and you can buy it. To say that there should be no lesser services at a lesser cost, and that the poor should just ride the bus is simply elitist. (Note - parent didn't say this, but it's already popping up in the comments)

  • by Josh Booth ( 588074 ) <joshbooth2000.yahoo@com> 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.

  • 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 maxume ( 22995 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:43PM (#23937759)

    Are you near death, obsessed with productivity or under heavy obligations?

    Those are the only three reasons I can think of for time being severely limited. I live healthy, I am lazy and I don't have a family, so I can't really say that my time is severely limited. Is there some other reason?

  • 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 jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:45PM (#23937787) Homepage Journal
    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).
  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:49PM (#23937837)

    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.

  • by bucky0 ( 229117 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:50PM (#23937857)

    If by "heavy obligations" you mean, "graduate school" then yes.

    My family lives in Brazil (I'm a dual citizen), if it would take me a month each way, (two weeks being generous) to get me from nashville, TN to Rio de Janeiro, I would never get to see my family.

    >> getting there is supposed to be half the fun

    When you're flying to Rio de Janeiro, I'd much rather be there and on the beach with family/friends than sitting on a boat.

  • by cunina ( 986893 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:56PM (#23937939)
    Yes, because any criticism of a union equates to an endorsement of a regressive workers-be-damned plutocracy.
  • by cduffy ( 652 ) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:58PM (#23937969)

    Time is money.

    Taking that much travel time would mean I would be unable to travel to visit my family or convince my employer to send me to a conference... simply because the lost income (for myself or my employer) corresponding with the travel costs in question would be too great to justify the expense.

    You say "obsessed with productivity"; I say "rational".

  • 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.

  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:08PM (#23938107)

    The devils advocate argument would be that you have constructed your life irrationally if you have to choose between work and visiting your family.

    I'm pragmatic enough that I won't claim to support that argument (all that much), but that was a big part of the snark in my initial post.

  • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:09PM (#23938127)

    A smoker who can't handle going without his fix for 6 hours can stay the fuck off my airplane, thanks. If your addictions are so massively out of control that you go into rage mode at 30,000 feet, you should be prosecuted, not coddled. Two pack a day man can get a grip or not fly.

  • yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quadraginta ( 902985 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:10PM (#23938147)

    Here's [verizon.net] an amusing site y'all can slashdot, comparing flying the 1960s to the present. A few points the guy makes:

    Flying was expensive. For example: A round trip ticket between Cleveland and Washington D.C. was about $75. This doesn't sound like a bad deal, until you adjust the fare for inflation: That's over $400 in today's dollars! By contrast, I recently paid less than $100 for a round trip between Cleveland and Washington on one of today's low-cost deregulated carriers.

    There was no point in shopping around for the best deal, because all airfares were controlled by regulation. If a roundtrip ticket between Cleveland and Washington was $75 on one airline, it was $75 on all the airlines.

    The vast majority of the passengers were businessmen. White male businessmen. Occasional families. Very few minorities, and virtually no women travelling independently.

    Food and drinks were almost always served, no matter how short the flight. Because there was no price competition, the airlines had to compete based on service. It was amazing to watch the stewardesses hustle to serve everyone on a quick trip, while constantly tugging at their skirts to retain some modesty.

    Sure, that sounds high-class, I guess, if you were a member of the flying aristocracy.

  • 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 cduffy ( 652 ) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:18PM (#23938253)

    I value my work more than I value visiting extended family, so I'm not deeply unhappy with that outcome; I just don't think that "well, high-speed travel is now completely unavailable, deal with it" is a reasonable position at this point. We might get there eventually, but that hasn't happened yet.

  • by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:27PM (#23938385) Homepage

    indeed. I don't understand this face-meeting obsession by air-mile-obsessed execs.
    Ok, I'm a small fry business, but I have contracts with companies all over the world, and I've never met anyone from any of them. My biggest partners have worked with me for a year and we never even spoke on the phone.

    Business people need to get over this prehistoric desire to go pick fleas off fellow apes if they want to sign deals with them. We have broadband, phones, and webcams, you should be flying much less now for business than you did 10 years ago.

  • by Rob Kaper ( 5960 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:37PM (#23938545) Homepage

    Why are bus and train routes on time more often than planes?

    Most airlines I've flown with show higher "on time" numbers than the Dutch railways (they are now but have been struggling to reach the mandated 86% while we are repeatedly mentioned to have one of the world's most efficient networks).

    Why are so many flights cancelled?

    It happened to me once, to Moscow. I was offered a replacement flight the same day and only because my visum was about to expire I had not a single hour to spare - our fault (business trip). It happened to a friend of mine once - we rebooked the flight to another BA one ten minutes later.

    You don't want to know how often I've had a scheduled train exceed that amount of delay or not even showing up at all. The same for metro, tram or bus services. Obviously I travel more by "regular" public transportation than plane, but I'm really not convinced there's a huge difference per mile/km travelled.

    Why are there so many frequent flyer mileage packages which give perks to people who are clearly NOT the everyman?

    I hardly know of any business that doesn't attempt some sort of useless loyalty programme. And frankly, usually I am disappointment when none is available.

    I fly occassionally, twice a year if I'm lucky, round trip, with connections. 5 out of 8 plans I've flown on were delayed.

    I'm sorry to hear that. I make at least twenty different legs a year and maybe one or two of them cause me a delay. Most of my time wasted travelling by plane is by getting there too early because I don't trust getting there on time - blame that on the other forms of transportation.

    More than anything, I do NOT want to be stuck overnight in an airport terminal trying to get home.

    If you book your entire flight at once, most airliners offer you compensation. I must admit I'm specifically lucky here, my bank/creditcard company insures me against delays, I get a huge (more than enough) compensation in case I am forced to get a hotel or buy new clothes and toiletries in case of luggage delay. But I must concede the authors could be right here, I believe this is a good European law where airliners are required to compensate you.

    But you aren't treated like the everyman on an airline, you are treated like crap.

    Never have I felt this way, except maybe when a combined fire and late arrival delayed a flight of mine after stores had closed at the gate (11pm-ish) and we weren't allowed back to the terminal for refreshments even with the two-hour delay. I filed a complaint and got 50% of my total fare back - the full 100% share of that return leg.

    Maybe there's US companies are allowed to treat customers as crap at greater liberty (pun intended), but I seriously doubt it is typical of air travel alone. (Our national railways are required to give refunds as well in case of severe delays. I tried but failed when my 10pm Amtrak train showed up in South Carolina three hours late.)

    (Sidenote: I miss the days when travelling to the US was something one would do for fun, in my case 1997/2001/2002. Continental didn't give me my luggage in 2002 when transferring in Atlanta and entering the country, nobody at customs gave me a hard time for entering the country for three weeks without any luggage and in San Francisco it took me all of ten minutes to asked what to do because it also wasn't there. Actually I pretty much assumed that I could just report it, go to my friends and have it deliver ASAP, which is indeed how these things work.

    "Terminal chaos" has nothing to do with airliners and airports but much more with those inhabitants of this planet who are so braindead to cause a riot when they aren't sure whether they packed a toothbrush while they really aren't going anywhere where they couldn't buy a new one in virtually every street.

    Remember this every time you hear "Mr. Bla, you must board immediately, we're already offloading your luggage" through the terminal speakers, look around you, and then be amazed how airports can function so well with all the idiots using them.

  • Re:yep (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:42PM (#23938637) Homepage Journal

    There are other factors. White Men where most of the business men then, I suspect that would change to match the current demographic.

  • 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.

  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:47PM (#23938725) Journal

    Non-unionized airlines in America pay better and have better working conditions that the unionized ones. Unions were an answer for a different millenium.

  • by Steve525 ( 236741 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:55PM (#23938833)

    And somehow the country did not grind to a halt and fall apart.

    True, but how often did people get to travel to the other side of the globe (or country if it's large like the US) for the heck of it? Reasonably priced air travel allows people to see much of the world that they wouldn't get to otherwise. Yes, this is progress!
  • SImple (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:55PM (#23938841) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by bucky0 ( 229117 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:01PM (#23938953)

    They don't have the money to get the trans-american highway to be passable throughout central/south america, what makes you think they will be able to engineer a high speed rail line that works right?

  • by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:02PM (#23938959) Journal

    It's quite simple. It's called "junket." They're not just meeting with the other execs. They're getting an international vacay in on the company dime. It's pretty standard practice to screw your shareholders whenever you get the chance.

  • Re:yep (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:05PM (#23939015)

    White male businessmen. Occasional families. Very few minorities, and virtually no women travelling independently.

    In the 60's, what other businessmen were there, other than white and male? To try to make something that was classist also racist and sexist, just because the classes back then were aligned that way, insults everyone's intelligence.

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:09PM (#23939073)

    If somebody really needs to get to another continent within a day, it should be because somebody they love is on their deathbed. It shouldn't be because of yet another business deal. Our priorities are so screwed these days, but I guess that's progress.
    Who the hell are you to tell me or anyone else what our priorities should be? I welcome fast travel. The faster the better within reason and safety. My life is finite and I'd rather not waste it traveling in unnecessarily slow vehicles when I could be spending my life the way I want to. If slow travel makes you happy that's fine but don't you dare tell me my priorities are screwed up because I don't want to take a week or a month out of my life to travel a few thousand miles.
  • by cduffy ( 652 ) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:24PM (#23939309)

    Why use it at all? I've yet to run into a situation where videoconferencing is appropriate but a phone call (possibly coupled with out-of-band data exchange) won't do.

    The thing is, there are cases where neither videoconferencing nor a phone call is a substitute for direct interaction. Visiting the family for a holiday and sharing meals with them is an entirely different experience than making a phone call; claiming that telepresence as currently implemented is an adequate substitute for physical presence is clearly bogus.

    Likewise, if you're about to claim that watching an A/V feed is an adequate substitute for attending a professional conference, I suggest that you're missing a very large part of the point of being present for such events.

  • by Jansingal ( 1098809 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:30PM (#23939427)

    me thinks so!

  • 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:yep (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:46PM (#23939623)

    Companies having to compete in service because prices are fixed... hmm.

    Ya know, regulations don't sound so bad after all...

  • by bucky0 ( 229117 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:48PM (#23939673)

    god damnit, I hate snide little 'proverbs' like that.

    It's not an issue of taking time off. I've traveled to either Brazil or Europe (sometimes both) every year since 2002 (around the age I could travel on my own). I very nearly am going to need new pages in my passport.

    I take time off, I'm a student, I get breaks. But given that I have a finite amount of time to take off, I would MUCH rather spend that time with my family than sitting on a boat with a bunch of strangers.

    What kind of point were you trying to make, anyway?

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:50PM (#23939721)

    Actually, first class is anything but a surefire way to get rid of obnoxious people. They're just obnoxious in other ways. Instead of constantly comlaining about something, some (by far not everyone, but some) treat the stewardesses like some sort of personal slave.

    And that bothers me for some reason. That women (or men in some cases) are my link to more booze, and the last thing I want is them being grumpy!

  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @04:08PM (#23940035)
    I find it disturbing that someone would wax nostalgic about assault being a socially acceptable way to deal with public annoyances

    So, instead, you find assault by someone ELSE to be acceptable, because they're in a bad mood? Having someone scream at you, throw things, shove people out of their way, physically harass flight attendants, etc... THAT's OK, but laying a hand on them to get them to stop? The horror! Lock those people AWAY for looking to keep civilization civilized without having to call in a public servant, who will arrive in an hour or so. Maybe.

    Should I get off your lawn now?

    That's your response to a description of a culture that coddles people having angry, violent fits in public? That only unreasonable old people who don't want their property vandalized would also be upset about watching a retail clerk or a flight attendant get abused?

    It sounds like empathy isn't one of your strong suits

    No, it sounds like YOU are the one with misplaced empathy. You have zero empathy for the 100 people that one loudmouthed, obnoxious jerk can impact when no one stops them from going on some "rage" because they're displeased with the size of their peanut bag, or can't grasp why they shouldn't talk loudly through your $10 movie.

    I won't ask you to have some for the parents of said kids

    Why? I imagine that some of them - while having been shamed out of ever disciplining their kids - are none the less embarassed by the little punks they've raised. I have a lot of empathy for them, since they're surrounded by teachers, preachers, shrinks, and PBS specials that seek to drown out their commons sense.

    _every_ toddler in existence has freaked out in public when it it is least convenient to his/her parents

    Yes, and those parents used to grab that kid and march them right out of the movie, or not buy them the ice cream they're screaming about. And where do you draw the line on your use of the word "toddler," anyway? I'm talking about kids as old as 6 or 8 or 10+.

    The child is not deliberately trying to offend

    No, the child is usually trying to manipulate the parent into a desired action (or cease an undesired action). And parents give in. Big time. As a result, that sense of entitlement sets in very early, and permanently. As does the Drama Queen methodology.

    I have been stuck on a transatlantic flight with a colicky infant in the seat behind me

    How about a boorish 18 year old loudly repeating over and over (for hours) that Virgin "like, totally SUCKS" for not making her text messaging work while somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic, and throwing a food tray into the aisle when asked if she was done with her meal? I've been stuck with her, too.
  • by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `reggoh.gip'> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @04:09PM (#23940049) Journal

    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...
  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @04:42PM (#23940659) Journal

    Business people need to get over this prehistoric desire to go pick fleas off fellow apes if they want to sign deals with them. We have broadband, phones, and webcams, you should be flying much less now for business than you did 10 years ago.

    Yes, because all those other mediums replace the need to meet face-to-face. Right. Just like the Internet will destroy the parcel post (it did the opposite) and the computer will eliminate paper. (we use more now than ever before)

    I have a heavily distance-based business. I routinely deal with people hundreds of miles away, I do remote desktops and virtual trainings as a matter of course. My laptop is my office, my phone is my lifeline. Does this mean I fly less than ever before? Quite the opposite - I fly rather frequently, despite the virtual sessions, webcams, conference calls, email, and remote desktop support sessions.

    Sometimes, there simply is no replacement for meeting face to face. Yeah, phone calls work for things like talking through a problem, but there is no replacement for being there in the flesh, with all the innuendo, sideways glances, winks, and hand-gestures that webcams approximate but ultimately fail to deliver.

    So despite investing heavily in technologies to reduce our travel budget, and despite the effectiveness of these tools, our travel budget remains hefty. Showing up in person is like wearing nice clothes to work - it shows that you are serious, and that your intention is to make things work. And so we show up, and our company continues to grow profitably.

    And seriously - what difference is a $250 airline tickets, $150 hotel, and $75 car rental fees for a $50,000/year contract going to make? Given that choice, you sit back and enjoy the (prehistoric) flight!

  • You just nailed it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DesScorp ( 410532 ) <DesScorp@noSpAM.Gmail.com> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @05:16PM (#23941067) Homepage Journal

    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 accommodations as luxurious as any you'd find on a big cruise ship. They could afford to with what people were paying. In today's dollars, a Pan Am ticket from San Francisco to Hawaii via Clipper cost the equivalent of $10,000 dollars.

    If anyone could suddenly afford to join your local country club, I promise you it'd get louder, busier, and more crowded too.

  • by element-o.p. ( 939033 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @05:36PM (#23941309) Homepage
    Hmmm...Behind door one, we have "starve and be homeless with your (extended, I presume) family", door two is "have a job but never see your extended family" and hiding behind door three, we have "have a job, and periodically suffer through airline travel to spend time with your loved ones." Which one of these choices seems least irrational to you?

    I get your point, but to say that cduffy's choice is irrational is, well, irrational. I'm not in his shoes, so I don't know why it was necessary for him to live/work where he does, but there must be a reason, or he wouldn't be doing it.
  • Smaller value? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @06:45PM (#23942243) Homepage Journal
    Let's take a look at the numbers. From the article, we have .032 hull losses per 1 million departures vs. .049, which is equal to 32 hpb vs. 49 hpb. If we are measuring in absolute terms, the actual increase is extremely small. If we subtract out some baseline value, however, then the effective increase becomes much larger. (An increase of 1 to 2 is a doubling. An increase of 10 to 11 is a change of 1/10th. The fact that they are both +1 is irrelevent.)

    Can flight be made totally safe? No. Machines have a statistical probability of failure, and that will never be zero. In the case of an aircraft, you have a very complex machine, where each part and the various assemblies of parts right up to the complete system each has a probability of failure. You can make a computer program bug-free long before you can make an aircraft fault-free, because computers are not subject to mechanical issues. The logic of a given statement will always produce the same result for the same input, no matter how many times it is run. (The output may be different - a malloc may discover that memory is exhausted - but the logic, the mathematical postcondition, is fixed and immutable.) Even if you spent an infinite amount of money, and took an infinite amount of care, the risks involved in anything physical is going to be non-zero.

    Therefore, we can subtract this non-zero value from our totals. The totals become "smaller" only if you think in absurd absolute terms. If you look at how many orders of magnitude above the theoretical minimum you are, you are no longer talking in billionths, but in terms of hundreds, thousands or even millions, depending on the complexity of the aircraft and on pure maths modelling of complexity. Notice not only the change in the number of zeros, but where the decimal point is.

    17 per billion flights is a tiny difference in failures. 53% greater risk is a hell of a lot bigger. But if we subtract a baseline value, that percentage goes UP, not down.

  • Re:Given that... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @07:49PM (#23943015) Homepage Journal
    You can't reach zero crashes with software (Turing's "Halting Problem") and that's a controlled, mathematically perfect environment that is not subject to birdstrikes, metal fatigue, component failure, short-circuits, tyre bursts, fuel tank ruptures, air pockets, windsheer, fuel contamination, St. Elmo's Fire, volcanic dust, collisions, engine fires, drunk/asleep pilots, or any of the other things that have taken aircraft out of the skies over the years.

    (Computers may be subject to some of those, but the software itself is not. You can failover software, it's much harder to failover to another aircraft if yours drops out the sky.)

  • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <charleshixsn@ea r t h l i n k.net> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @10:30PM (#23944347)

    I wouldn't say that. I've seen plenty of bad unions (though more bad corporations).

    OTOH, AFAIK most of the problems with the air industry didn't really surface until Regan broke the Air Traffic Controllers strike...for safer working conditions. (Safer for the airplanes that they were controlling.)

    I wouldn't say that now the Air Traffic Controllers union is still trying to provide safe conditions for the traffic controlled. They might be, but they've learned that it's dangerous, so now they might just be trying to protect their jobs and screw the populace. (I haven't been paying attention for a decade or two.)

    Do I trust this book? On a first guess, no. OTOH, if I were interested enough, I might check into it's background, and perhaps I would then trust it. I sort of doubt it though. Places where I have any current information at all tend to disagree with it's analyses.

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