Is Air Travel Really that Bad?


Is Air Travel Really that Bad?

Kevin Williamson over at the National Review has penned an article titled “Unholy Alliances.” You can read it here. Its a cleverly written piece about air travel and the disasters that can strike the unsuspecting.

He blames the TSA, unions, uncaring airlines, customs officials and just about everyone connected with the air line industry for what he considers the disaster of air travel. And in many cases, he is right.

I travel two to three times a month by air. I look at it differently.  At my home airport, LAX, more than 66,000,000 people arrive or depart annually. That’s 180,000 a day. The fact that the airport and airlines are able to do that at all seems incredible to me.

Kevin gave examples of delayed flights that could be blamed on incompetence.  I’ll give you an example of extreme competence.

Our Park News Editor, Astrid, flew to Florida over the holidays to visit her parents. There was some problems with her return flight. As soon as the airline (Delta) realized there was a problem, they used text and email to contact her with a new flight for her to take, a new connection in Atlanta (of course). She was automatically rebooked on the new flights and had to do nothing except show up at the new time.  She wasn’t inconvenienced at all and arrived back in LA a few minutes BEFORE her originally scheduled time. She never spoke to a live person.

I thought that was pretty fancy.

Since I travel a lot I use all the tools the airport and airline provides.  That includes TSAPre. Kevin noted that in Las Vegas they close the TSAPre lines occasionally.  I haven’t experienced that but find the concept that frequent flyers can jump the line, go through metal detectors that are tuned up so your wedding ring doesn’t set them off, and  don’t have to take off your shoes or take your pc out of your bag is super. By the way, I never signed up for it. One day the little TSAPre logo just appeared on my boarding pass, and has been there ever since.  I did sign up for the TSA Border Protection pass that allows me to skip the lines at immigration and customs when I reenter the US on international travel. I have to say it was the most painless registration and interaction I have ever had with the federal government.  Nothing but kudos for Customs and Immigration, at least for this service.

I use the Delta Club room because I can work there and its quiet and comfortable. I get it included with my AMEX card so its a no brainer. At LAX I have learned to drop off and pick up people on the upper level. There’s not so much congestion there. I check in from home, print out my boarding pass and also have it on my phone. Back up is king. I never lose a bag because I never check a bag, but if I did, I would check it at the curb and pay the sky cap $5 a bag to make it happen.

I travel with the same airline as often as I can because I learn their foibles and am able to foresee potential problems and work around them. By being a frequent flyer, I get upgrades often to the slightly more spacious seats and sometimes even to business or first class.  I know which cities have convenient airports and which don’t. Detroit, Minneapolis, and Atlanta are huge, modern airports but can sometimes have connecting gates that are in different terminals. Cincy is great. So is Salt Lake City. LAX isn’t too bad but I never have connections there.

Sorry Kevin. I think the airline industry does an amazing job considering the number of passengers, flights, and potential for error. Could they be better? Of course. But if you fly a lot, your can work the system and have a much more pleasant experience. If you fly once a year, I just hope you aren’t standing in front of me because I know you are going to cause a problem.


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John Van Horn

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