obama beats the airlines

I only wish “beat” meant pistol-whipping them.

Almost as good: our Benevolent President, in his Infinite Wisdom, has ordered airlines to allow passengers to disembark from planes that have been stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours.

This is taken from the above-linked article, but I think it bears repeating here:

Airlines will be required to provide food and water for passengers within two hours of a plane being delayed on a tarmac, and to maintain operable lavatories. They must also provide passengers with medical attention when necessary. […]

“Airline passengers have rights, and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

In terms of the airlines, I’m all for more regulation. Regulate them to within an inch of their lives. Why? Because that’s exactly what they do to us, from the moment we step inside an airport until our bedraggled living corpse is carried by our family out the other end. I have luckily never lived in a totalitarian state, but I imagine that is what America would look like if it were run by the airlines.

The heads of the airlines should have been made to accept this new regulation on bent knee. They should have been forced to thank the President for forcing them to treat their paying customers decently.

I recently saw Ray LaHood on The Daily Show, and he mentioned the promise of high-speed rail. If this does indeed come to fruition, and I hope that it does, a byproduct may be that airlines see that comfort in long-distance travel is possible.

America is supposedly a capitalist society. Why, then, does it require our government to step in to correct huge, long-term mistakes made by gigantic corporations? From the banks on Wall Street to the Big 3 auto makers to the airlines, when a corporation gets big enough it stops listening to the market because it believes it cannot possibly fail. I think the Greeks had a word for that. The market supposedly makes the best possible choices, but with big business there is no alternative to the one crappy choice we have.

autobiography Blog

one time I almost went to Jamaica

1986859211_147812b22d_o It was a surprise that I was not able to book the plane tickets online. After all, I had always used the internet to purchase plane tickets. Calling the phone number listed in tiny type on the bottom of the web page would only result in a long wait on hold, followed by an unhelpful salesperson who is angry that you didn’t book your tickets online like the rest of the civilized world. Right?

This was a few years ago. I was booking two plane tickets, one for me and one for my wife, to visit my wife’s family in Ohio. Simple enough. Except every time I went to buy the tickets, the price shot up.

After checking three or four different websites, all with the same result, I finally broke down and called the airline. Assuming I’d be on hold for forty minutes, I found a magazine and sat down in our most comfortable chair.

Amazingly, the call went right through. A woman with a thick Jamaican accent told me she would like to help make my reservation. Well!

Her phone demeanor was impeccable. I gave her the flight information, and we waited for her computer to spit out the numbers. We made small talk. As it turned out, she was actually in Jamaica.

Then she spoke the words that almost changed my travel plans completely: “Why don’t you go to Jamaica?”

She had me there. Why not? I did a quick mental calculation. Would my wife’s anger at not being able to see her family outweigh the surprised happiness at finding out we were going to Jamaica?

Stalling, I asked, “How’s the weather there?”

“Good,” she lilted. “It’s always nice here.” I could hear the surf lapping against her desk. Her eyes were shaded from the warm sun by a Blue Mahoe tree. “How is the weather in Cleveland?”

“Pretty crappy,” I admitted.

By then the information about the Cleveland flight had arrived at her screen. She told me the details. Like a coward, I purchased the tickets.

Dear readers, I am sure I made the right decision that fateful day. Besides, everyone knows Cleveland rocks.cleveland-07

autobiography Blog

no more golden age

airplane-graveyardThere are few things in this world that anger me more than air travel. We pay for the privilege of being abused for a day, all for what? Arriving a little bit sooner? Personally, I prefer to drive or take a train. If I have the time, that’s what I do. But more often than not, the “easier” way to go is by plane. I endure stoically, but boiling beneath the surface is a volcano of rage. Rage at the airlines, for their lack of accountability. Rage at airports, for their incompetence. Rage at the government for not solving an easy problem.

When a person goes bankrupt, his life becomes very difficult. When an airline goes bankrupt, as almost all of them have in the last decade, the people who suffer are not the ones who stupidly drove their company to ruin. The employees suffer and the passengers suffer. I would say we suffer together, but circumstances prove that we are pitted against each other, like dogs in the same cage. The FAA and the airlines and the airport authorities trap us all in an enclosed space and watch us fight, when we really want them.

Instead of making this post all rage and no substance, I will now lay out my master plan for airline travel. This post can be printed out very easily and submitted to your Congressperson, if you so desire.

1) Invest in a new computer system. Control towers use an incomprehensibly outdated computer system for tracking take-offs and landings. An overhaul of this system will save everyone time and do wonders for morale.

2) Abolish airport security. What kind of a world do we live in where we have to take off our shoes to sit on an airplane? Would you like me to take off my pants, too? This only serves to belittle paying customers. Instead of baggage inspectors, hire two or three military-trained guards to ride on every plane. Have them stand on either side of the gate as the passengers enter the plane. The only checkpoint you need in an airport is a simple metal detector. Oh, and let everybody wait at the gates. It’s always nice to see a friendly face when you step off the plane.

3) Rip out seats in airplanes. We’re crammed in there so tightly you can hear the heartbeat of the person sitting next to you. Take out every other row, or take out a column so there are two seats across instead of three. Airlines have already proven they can’t make money by packing people into planes; why don’t they try something different? Make more flights in smaller planes. They might even see people flying more often, if it is a pleasant experience and not something to be endured.
4) Don’t make passengers sit in an airplane that is not going to take off. Have you ever sat on the runway for an hour or more? It makes you want to strangle somebody.

These suggestions are not revelatory. They are so simple. Airlines have proven they cannot handle the business of flying people around, yet they are still allowed to do so. The Wright brothers (and their physics-minded sister, Katharine) invented a great thing. What we need today is a different kind of invention. We made air travel; we now need to make air travel pleasant.newport-birds

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Out the Plane Window

Make no mistake, I hate airports. I hate the rules, I hate the crowds, the overwhelming security hassles, the overpriced (yet still surprisingly crappy) food. If I had an extra billion dollars, I’d invest in railroad infrastructure, then run the airlines out of business. It shouldn’t be hard, they’re already bankrupt.

That said, I do enjoy looking out the window of an airplane. When the airport is a distant memory, I can enjoy the view. You get to see the land you know from a totally different perspective, and you can see how it is all connected. Seeing the Western landscape from above answered any questions I had about how it was formed. You can see the canyons, the dry riverbeds, the mountains. Once I saw the meteor crater in Northern Arizona.

It’s come in handy when I try to visualize how Falling Rock National Park might look.

Below is a sketch of central Oregon. I couldn’t tell if the river was dry or running.central_OR