Tales from the runway

The airline industry is in meltdown. No news there, as many people who have tried to get from Point A to Point B in the same day can attest.

The big story at the moment is the stranded passengers of American Airlines, which has grounded a thousand flights to check where a tie-wrap was used on some wiring in the wheel-well.


No question about it, being stranded in an airport — especially if you have kids — stinks, made worse by the fact nobody ever seems to have an answer, or a good explanation for the why or when questions.

Expect it to get worse in Minneapolis-St. Paul, according to the government, which issued a warning on Wednesday that Northwest has scheduled dozens of flights to take off at about the same time (see report).

Northwest, according to the Star Tribune, “did not respond to a request for comment,” taking a page from the American Airlines playbook.

By summer, those planes will likely have Delta’s colors, news reports suggest. With or without the agreement of Northwest pilots, the two airlines appear ready to go ahead and merge, which still won’t allow two airplanes to take off from the same runway at the same time, of course. It will also create an odd experience for travelers, who’ll get to cross picket lines of pilots from one airline, picketing the pilots of another airline.

Why would anyone want to work in this business? That’s a question, perhaps, for Jason Captain, who started training last month at a Northwest subsidiary, after giving up a pretty fair government gig, the New York Times reported today. “My wife thinks I’m nuts,” said the 32 year old.

Being an airline pilot was once a respected and admirable position. Now it’s the same as driving a bus. We used to dress up to take an airline flight, now we’re passengers at Greyhound. How’d we get here? Blogger Dave Gamble, an occasional visitor to News Cut, has an interesting perspective today. We got here because more of us were allowed the means to fly in the first place:

Efficiency is nice for the common consumer – consider Wal-Mart – but it doesn’t make for the most enjoyable experience. Not to out myself as an elitist bastard, but I like to compare a trip to Wal-Mart with what it must be like to spend a couple of hours back stage on The Maury Show (in furtherance of my analogy, according to the Maury web site today’s topic is “I Had Sex With Your Sister and Got Her Pregnant” – who wouldn’t want to rub elbows with those folks), and that crowd is now routinely enjoying airline travel.

It might not be a bad time to invest in a roadside motel. This long-distance-travel-by-car thing might just take off.

Summer travel season is coming, what poison are you picking?

  • Driving/camping for a trip to Yellowstone in Late May/Early June.

    Flying for a gaming convention in July.

  • bsimon

    We’ll be joining the other cattle at the airport. Don’t prod me, bro! Moo.

  • Nick

    Ugh. I’m flying to Newark next week for a weekend in NYC working with a small publisher. After having some wonderful issues with Travelocity in LAX this past February, I was really hoping for a nice clean round-trip flight. The worst part? I’m flying with Continental! Arg!

    I’m 23, work part-time, and have kinda put college on the back-burner. I pull in probably 500 every two weeks at a small neighborhood bakery in Minneapolis. With respect to Mr. Gamble’s thoughts, I don’t really think it’s just the Wal-Mart crowd that’s hitting the air recently. I think with the more convenient packages and ridiculous deals that travel sites offer, the more often rubes like myself are able to speak and talk to editors face to face without draining our entire bank account.

    Most summer trips (Stillwater, Nashwauk, Duluth) for me are easily accessible by car, so no problems there. I am flying out to San Diego in late July, so hopefully somebody somewhere kinda sorta has their act together by then.

  • Bob Collins

    You know, a couple of years ago I took the summer off from MPR and went back to New England for a couple of weeks. Because I had the time — and the curiosity — I drove, only I vowed not to drive on the interstate but to take (comparatively speaking) “back roads.”

    It was one of the most enjoyable trips, far better than any airline trip. I wrote about it on one of my other blogs.

    All you really need is an extra day in each direction.

    It could catch on! Of course gas was $1.65 back then. But I didn’t have to rent a car once I got where I was going, either.

  • Why would anyone want to work in this business? That’s a question, perhaps, for Jason Captain…

    Well, I can sure appreciate the temptation to someday be able to introduce himself as Captain Captain.

    Not to out myself as an elitist bastard…

    Uh-oh, cat’s out of the bag now!

  • reba

    Too many people I know have gotten held prisoner in grounded planes with no bathrooms, no water, crying children (who can blame them?), etc., and I suspect the merger won’t help. I now avoid flying if possible. And we all know driving costs a lot more now. I’ve been taking the bus for mid-range trips (Midwest region) since college days, and to me it’s less nerve-racking than flying nowadays. What I’d LOVE is more train options! Viva Europe!

    BTW, on AA, what was going on over there that they had 18 months to comply with safety regs(from 2006) and NOW have to take this emergency measure? That’s a really bad sign.