Saturday, June 30, 2007

life in hell (or air travel 2007)

I'm hearing more and more horror stories about air travel in recent weeks - flight delays, absolutely full flights, cancellations, horrendous lies by airline personnel, and a general lack of customer service. This week a friend of a friend went to NYC for what was supposed to be a one day trip. When she went to the airport for her return trip to Chicago on Thursday, she was told that her flight was cancelled. She was offered a ticket on the next flight with any available seats - on Saturday. The airline did not make any attempt to help her get back to Chicago sooner. Phone calls to other airlines did not get her anything better. If she's lucky, maybe she'll get home from NYC tonight, after paying for 2 additional days of hotel and meals, not reimbursed by the airline.

And then there's the hell that some guy from Ft. Worth just went through, courtesy of Delta. The Youtube video included in the article gives a much more complete picture of how bad it was and how badly the airline handled it.

I'd like to take a trip later this year, but the growing list of nightmare stories does not exactly motivate me to fork over a chunk of cash for this game of travel Russian roulette. It's making Amtrak look a lot more appealing. At least if you have delays on Amtrak, you have access to food and you can get up and walk around. They rent digital video players too. The idea of settling into a comfortable seat, enjoying the scenery, having good food in the dining car, and walking around as much as I want is pretty nice compared to the possibility of being stranded at my destination if my return flight is cancelled, at an unknown additional cost for hotel and meals.

I think we can officially declare our airline transportation broken, folks. The question is how and when it will be fixed.


The North Coast said...

Our airlines are going to stay broken, and instead of fixing them, we should fix the railroads.

Or rather, let the railroads fix themselves, which I predict they will do with great dispatch once we remove the obstructions, stop subsidizing their wasteful competition, and otherwise just step out of their way.

We deliberately murdered the railroads with death-duty taxes and cumbersome over-regulation in the 50s and 60s in order to firehouse the airline industry with subsidies, which it would never have been profitable without. The railroads, on the other hand, would have done just FINE without the horrendous overtaxation and regulation piled on them during the period of airline and highway expansion with gov't money.

As usual with the U.S., public funds by the billions were used to support the extravagent and wasteful at the expense of the economical and efficient, and we can see the results now, that we are in a fuel crunch that is most likely permanent and very likely will become much worse: the airlines can't make it with all the subsidies in the world, because it makes no kind of sense to use as much fuel on a short hop you are charging people $104 for as a long haul that someone pays $800 for.

A commenter on one blog referred to this industry as a "fuel-guzzling, subsidy-hogging, executive-bonusing, green-house gas producing money sink".

Time to pull the plug on this wasteful form of travel, and let the money flow back to the railroads, while disburdening them of archaic and punitive regulation that should never have been imposed to begin with.

Subsidize NEITHER, and see which prospers in an age of rapidly depleting fossil fuel supplies. Wonder why both Warren Buffet AND T. Boone Pickens are shoveling hundreds of millions of their personal fortunes into railroad investments? They see what the future is, have lines of info more reliable than most of us.

I used to love air travel, but knowing that my $104 round trip to St. Louis costs almost as much fuel as a long haul to Australia makes the whole thing a pretty bad proposition for me and for the public as a whole. It is made completely insufferable by the brutality of modern airtravel- the multiple security lines and overall paranoia and flagrant incivility on display at airports, the lack of common comforts easily found on trains, such as legroom and the ability to use an electronic device anytime you want. It may take 7 hours for the poor Amtrack to single-track through Il but it takes almost that long on a plane given the security , the delays, the cancellations, and at least on the train I don't have to check my cosmetics and I can listen to my IPOd or use the computer any time Iwant.

Fargo said...

We'd be a lot better off in many ways if the railroads made a comeback. The travel experience on a train can be a lot more pleasant. There's something to be said for going from downtown to downtown, where one is more likely to find amenities nearby, as opposed to going to an airport way out of town (such as in Denver) and then having an expensive trip to actually get into the city.

Train travel is much better environmentally, both comparing train vs. plane, then adding in the long trip to one's final destination from the airport.

I think our overall transportation picture may look a lot better in 20 years. At least I hope it does. If not, we'll all be in some very deep doo-doo.

The North Coast said...

Too bad the lobbyists run our legislature. When our legislators have time to think of other things besides voting themselves 9.6% payhikes, they think of all their corporate contributors, and the airlines are heavy hitters.

We have at least a dozen abandoned rights-of-way between here and St. Louis, and more between here and various points in Wisconsin. These should be assayed for their feasibility for high speed lines. By high speed I mean 80-150MPH.

We should have had such rail service 40 years ago. We now lag far behind every other developed country in every relavent measure of civilization.