What Sets Them Apart is What Sets Them Off

One of the great attributes that sets Americans apart from most of their world kin is what sets them off.
Kate got pissed on an Austin, Texas runway and in no time had 18,000
signatures on a petition holding Congress’s feet to the fire to pass a
bill of rights for passengers. She wants regulation and by god, she
wants it now, before another passenger sits another hour (or ten) on
some dumb runway without so much as a Perrier or an apology.

People like Kate Hanni fascinate me. I’m envious of their
organizational skills, as well as their willingness to do what most of
us merely gripe about. Del Wilber, a Washington Post staff writer kicks off his piece about Kate’s activism with this lead-in;

Just a few months ago, Kate Hanni wasn’t thinking much about the woes of air travelers.

Northern California mother of two was a popular real estate agent,
living in a 3,200-square foot home on a golf course, singing in a
Motown band and driving a Lotus race car.

Well, there you go—the American dream,
the kind that goes with a natural tan and a disposition attuned to the
good life, however we individually define it. There’s even a hint of
disconnect about Kate’s life behind the wheel of her Lotus, a sort of bad things happen to other people
and ‘I wonder if this white Zinfandel will go with the crab salad.’ You
can see I’m reaching—Kate probably wouldn’t be caught dead serving a
white Zin.

after being stranded for nine hours on an American Airlines flight at
an airport in Austin in December, she has emerged as the public face of
passenger discontent with poor airline service. Angry at her treatment
by the airline, she founded an advocacy group for air travelers that
has been seeking stiffer regulations of the industry.

One of the great attributes that sets Americans apart from most of their world kin is what sets them off.
Kate got pissed on an Austin, Texas runway and in no time had 18,000
signatures on a petition holding Congress’s feet to the fire to pass a
bill of rights for passengers. She wants regulation and by god, she
wants it now, before another passenger sits another hour (or ten) on
some dumb runway without so much as a Perrier or an apology.

But regulation isn’t going to do it, Kate. And certainly this
confused, disorganized, stressed out, absurd Congress isn’t going to
act—not with 18,000 signatures on your petition and $180,000 in airline
lobbyist coffers. You’re not even close.
In this accelerated society of ours it’s taken a mere fifty years for
air travel to become the worst possible way to get from point A to
point B. Who’d have thought that air travel could actually sink below
Greyhound in the wonderful world of public transport. How would you
sell this good-news, bad-news scenario to the traveling public?

The good news: We’re going to get you from Chicago to New York in two hours (flight time).
The bad news: It takes two hours to get from downtown
Chicago out to O’Hare Airport (and actually on the plane) when you
figure in possible traffic problems, the exigencies of security checks
and boarding passes, not to mention a possible delay on the runway. And
the shoes. There’s the ritual taking-off-of-the-shoes ceremony, a
reversion to tribal society.
How long a delay? Hmmm, anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours. Plus, the plane might not be there to board. If it has problems in Tampa or Dallas (its two connecting legs) it could be delayed or even canceled. How long? Who knows? Certainly not the lone (and frazzled) agent at the check-in desk.
Once you’re actually at Kennedy in New York, there’s the
whole taxi thing, the traffic thing, the weather thing and you’ll be
lucky to be slumped in your hotel check-in line within a couple of
hours. Actual time elapsed from downtown Chicago to midtown Manhattan
for that two hour flight; six hours at best, seven on average, ten if
stuff happens.

All of this Orwellian drama will cost
you $203 or $374 or $951, unless it costs $1,331 (business class). But
keep in mind the fundamental truth that, whatever you pay, time
expended is democratically spread across all classes. The very last
seat gets there just a millisecond behind those deliciously comfortable
recliners in First Class.

The bill (Hanni’s
Airline Passenger’s Bill of Rights), if passed, would require airliners
to return to the gate after a tarmac delay of more than three hours. It
would also require airlines to provide food and water for stranded
passengers, and to more frequently update customers with information on
the delay.

Although members of Congress, staff members and
lobbyists have said they do not expect the bill to pass because it
would put onerous costs on the industry, some of Hanni’s concepts have
found their way into other legislation. The House funding bill for the
Federal Aviation Administration, for example, would require carriers to
establish plans to care for passengers during lengthy tarmac delays and
would also require the Transportation Department to keep better track
of such delays.

Terrific. Can’t have any of those onerous costs,
unless they are the cost of a missed meeting, a failed contract or a
dying mother who’s dead before you arrive two days late. But then,
those costs are borne by taxpayers and not airlines.
The delays aren’t going to get any better, we’re just going to require the feds to keep better records of them and feed and water us
like all cattle in transit deserve. Well, that’s a nice enough effort,
but it doesn’t do much for the problem at hand and the problem yet to
come—Dicken’s Ghost of Airline Misery Past and the Ghost of Airline Misery Yet to Come.
Meanwhile, all those Interstate Highway medians are just having their weeds mowed instead of hosting bullet trains between the American cities salted and peppered along their 47,000 idle miles. Forty-seven thousand miles of grade-crossing free access,
threading enticingly from one downtown to another. Cities within which
the great modern architects of today might design and build the great
transportation centers of tomorrow.
Where are you, Michael Graves?
It’ll never happen you say. It may not happen in a logical and
planned sort of way, because we are not a logical and planning sort of
nation until our lack of planning comes down around our ears and
changes are forced. Then we move, usually at great cost.
Disdaining the backwardness of Europe, we are deprived of their
elegant and efficient metro and tram systems. Contemptuous of Japan
(and even France), we will never submit to the pleasures of bullet
trains that run on schedules by which one can set his watch.
But all that disdain and contempt might be swept under the rug of
nine-hour runway delays and cancelled flights if we merely pushed the
right buttons.

Those buttons are where they have always been, within the board-rooms of industry and the greed of hedge funds.

comfort and style of the old San Francisco Chief, wedded to 200+ mph
speed and the luxuries of space to walk around, a window that actually
looks out at something and a dining-car instead of a pull-down tray.
All such things are possible. Let me whisper in your ear.
The forces that oppose must be aligned by the profit-motive to approve—nay, to demand such systems be built and built without delay—not a moment must be lost.

  • Engineering firms will engineer, the great celebrity architects
    will stop chasing museums and actually draw plans for something useful,
    developers will forget all about the sub-prime disaster and begin once
    more to take each other to lunch.
  • GM, Ford and Chrysler, on their knees at present, will be the
    builders and maintainers of engines (mag-lev rather than diesel),
    bar-cars, Pullman sleepers, coaches and dining-cars.
  • U.S. Steel (does it still exist?) and whatever other purveyors of
    rails, wire, grid systems and technical doo-dads will be eager to
  • The venerable Road Builders of America will salivate to grade and
    grind-up and haul off and smooth over whatever needs to be hauled off
    and smoothed over.
  • The Chase Manhattans, JPMorgans, Goldman Sachs types and whatever
    other investment banks can get their oar in the water, will row this
    baby into leverage-land.
  • Last—and very far from least—the airlines themselves will be miraculously restructured as transportation companies, bidding their little villainous hearts out for the rights to the Chicago-New York City route or Seattle-San Diego.

Thus will these hinderers of useful mass transit descend upon Washington in a united front of patriotic spirit and demand the Congress act in the interests of the nation (and themselves).
Think about it the next time you’re looking at the same old tired pulp-fiction carousel between delayed flights. 
Media comment;

1 thought on “What Sets Them Apart is What Sets Them Off

  1. Transporting oneself from Place A to Place B has become maddening for me. I'm a little bit like the California lady, in that I have a pleasant life (minus the Lotus). However, driving the car has become too much for me and as an experiment gave my car up for 30 days and wrote about the experience (valuewit.com). Refreshingly, I like living without the car!

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