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Terminal Chaos

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the fly-the-confusing-skies dept.

Government 511

Ben Rothke writes "While Terminal Chaos should be shelved in the current events or business section of a bookstore, it could also be placed in the modern crime section. After reading it, one gets the impression that the state of air traffic today could only come due to criminal neglect or mischief. If one looks at pictures of airline flights from the 1960s, you will see well-dressed passengers enjoying their flight. In 2008, barely a day goes by without an incident of air rage, from irate passengers in the terminal, to those in the air causing flights to be diverted. Today's airline traveler considers it a near miracle if his flight arrives on time with his baggage." Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.The reasons for the meltdown in the air traffic system are complex. The book names a number of reasons for today's chaos. Some of these include airline deregulation, multiple governmental agencies with no central oversight or responsibility, multiple corporate entities with conflicting agendas, an air traffic controllers union resisting change, a technologically outdated air traffic control system, and more.

While the public perception in the US is that somewhere out there, government officials are looking out for passenger's rights, the reality is there is no one looking out for them. Unlike their European counterparts, air travelers in the US have very few rights. This lack of passenger advocacy along with the other reasons has a huge impact on the economy, in addition to the costs that flight delays and cancellations cost U.S. travelers, which are estimated annually at over $3 billion.

Terminal Chaos: Why U.S. Air Travel Is Broken and How to Fix It is a fascinating book. The authors show a number of ways to fix the current problems. While the book is part case-study, it is also part tragedy, given the tragedy is that Washington lacks anyone with the pragmatism, willpower and audacity to stand up to the unions and powers that be to fix the system. The book lays out in 7 concise chapters the problems, ringleaders, obstacles and challenges that brought us to the state that we are in today.

The authors sum it up best when they note that the distance from New York to Chicago is 635 nautical miles, and when flown by a piston-powered DC-6 with a cruise speed of 315 MPH over 50 years ago, the scheduled flight time was a little longer than two hours. Today, scheduled airlines fly Boeing 737 turbofans at 511 MPH, but book this as a 3-hour flight.

In chapter 4, the authors note that while some flight delays are the result of post-9/11 security issues, the main reason why flying has become so arduous is that the air transportation system, as it is now structured in the US, is untenable from a fundamental business point of view. The government regulated business model is unstable and irrational and planes are purposely overbooked, flights are cancelled for no publicly explainable reason, and no one will offer the flier a sound reason for why these events occur.

Both authors are professors at the Center for Air Transportation Systems research at George Mason University. The book quotes from research done there, which includes suggestions such as to use larger aircraft (something Continental is doing at Newark), along with other market mechanisms. Other research shows that slot exemption, weight-based landing fees and other issues combine to lead to inefficient use of airport capacity, especially as slot-controlled airports, such as O'Hare, Kennedy, Newark, LaGuardia and Atlanta.

In chapter 6, the authors take a no-holds barred approach to NATCA, which is the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. They view NATCA as a stumbling block to modernization, and an organization whose goal is to protect their members, over the public they are supposed to serve. They also question how NATCA gets away with constantly stating that the US air traffic control system is the safest in the world, when it is actually behind Europe when it comes to safety metrics (Europe has .032 hull losses per 1 million departures vs. .049 in North America).

Ultimately, the book notes that the air traffic control problems exist in the fact that there is a perfect storm of airlines, airports, government agencies (FAA, DOT, OMB, DHS), White House and Congress, all of which seem to believe that they don't have the responsibility to fix the problem. Each seems to be waiting for someone else to take charge.

Chapter 7 lists a number of practical ways in which the air traffic control system can be modernized. Some of the suggestions would require significant financial outlays; others simply require all of the parties involved to play nicely together.

Overall, Terminal Chaos is a landmark book, in that it cuts through the complexity of the air traffic mess, and clearly lays out the problem, and possible solutions.

It is a very well-written and extremely well-researched book. It does have a few slight errors. Most noticeably on page 73 when it says that Continental has been in and out of bankruptcy court, while the table on the next page shows that Continental has been out of bankruptcy court for over 15 years. Also, one of the travel tips the authors give is to have a traveler consider using a private aircraft out of smaller, less congested airports. That is indeed a good suggestion, albeit extremely costly, and not financially feasible for most of the flying public.

Terminal Chaos is a book that should be required reading for anyone involved in air traffic and aviation, from passengers to every employee at the FAA. The authors have innovative ideas that should be listened to and implemented; from holding the government decision-makers responsible, to realistic ways to modernizing the air traffic control system. The book is a fascinating overview of what goes on in the skies above us, and in the air traffic control towers around us.

Ben Rothke is the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know.

You can purchase Terminal Chaos: Why U.S. Air Travel Is Broken and How to Fix It from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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frosty piss (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937233)

chug it!

Back in the day... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937293)

Airline passengers were the very wealthy elites, now they're not.

Re:Back in the day... (4, Insightful)

trolltalk.com (1108067) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937499)

Airline passengers were the very wealthy elites, now they're not.

High fuel prices will keep the riff-raff out.

Seriously, the week after the grounding of all flights, the air was clearer than it has been in decades. We really have to cut back on useless air travel - it's a "luxury" our children will be paying for, and cursing us for. Take a train, take a boat, take some TIME and enjoy it - getting there is supposed to be half the fun.

Re:Back in the day... (4, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937665)

Take a train, take a boat, take some TIME and enjoy it - getting there is supposed to be half the fun.

Whoever said that never traveled through the midwest or the great plains. Or across an ocean.

My time is a severely limited quantity; taking a week for a trip which would take a day (on both ends) by air means a lot less time at my destination. Taking a boat across the Atlantic or Pacific is right out; even when there was still regular passenger service, it took more than a month to cross the Atlantic.

Re:Back in the day... (1, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937759)

Are you near death, obsessed with productivity or under heavy obligations?

Those are the only three reasons I can think of for time being severely limited. I live healthy, I am lazy and I don't have a family, so I can't really say that my time is severely limited. Is there some other reason?

Re:Back in the day... (3, Insightful)

bucky0 (229117) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937857)

If by "heavy obligations" you mean, "graduate school" then yes.

My family lives in Brazil (I'm a dual citizen), if it would take me a month each way, (two weeks being generous) to get me from nashville, TN to Rio de Janeiro, I would never get to see my family.

>> getting there is supposed to be half the fun

When you're flying to Rio de Janeiro, I'd much rather be there and on the beach with family/friends than sitting on a boat.

Re:Back in the day... (4, Insightful)

cduffy (652) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937969)

Time is money.

Taking that much travel time would mean I would be unable to travel to visit my family or convince my employer to send me to a conference... simply because the lost income (for myself or my employer) corresponding with the travel costs in question would be too great to justify the expense.

You say "obsessed with productivity"; I say "rational".

Re:Back in the day... (3, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938107)

The devils advocate argument would be that you have constructed your life irrationally if you have to choose between work and visiting your family.

I'm pragmatic enough that I won't claim to support that argument (all that much), but that was a big part of the snark in my initial post.

Re:Back in the day... (3, Informative)

mapsjanhere (1130359) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937831)

Actually it took 5 days in most cases, the SS United States did it in under 4 days in 1952.

Re:Back in the day... (2, Informative)

Ziest (143204) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937901)

Taking a boat across the Atlantic or Pacific is right out; even when there was still regular passenger service, it took more than a month to cross the Atlantic.

I'm not sure where you get your information but a transatlantic crossing today is about 6 days. Have a look at cunard.com. My parents are planning to take the Queen Mary 2 from New York to Southampton next summer and the Cunard website says 6 days. If I remember right a transatlantic crossing in the 1890's took 8 or 9 days. Look up RMS Titanic on Wikipedia. She left Southampton on 10 April 1912. She ran ran into an iceberg on 14 April at which time she was close to Newfoundland.

Re:Back in the day... (1)

dirkbaztard (1297993) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937927)

Taking a boat across the Atlantic or Pacific is right out; even when there was still regular passenger service, it took more than a month to cross the Atlantic.
According to Cunard's website, average time to cross the Atlantic is only 6-7 days - on the scheduled trips they still offer. Not time efficient, but it does show that regular passenger service is still available. Personally, given the opportunity to do it, I'd take the ship across. It would be welcome down-time.

Re:Back in the day... (1)

lawn.ninja (1125909) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938051)

It took more than a month? Maybe in the 50's, the 1750's when we didn't have them fancy engines inside of dem der boats. But give me a break... It takes less than a week to cross the atlantic by boat.

Re:Back in the day... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23938053)

even when there was still regular passenger service, it took more than a month to cross the Atlantic.

Only if you were traveling in the 17th century. During late-19th/early-20th century, Atlantic crossings took 7-10 days.

Re:Back in the day... (1, Troll)

sohp (22984) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937513)

If the book hits on unions as hard as the reviewer seems to indicate, it appears the authors of want to go back to that time when they and their social circles were the only passengers.

Re:Back in the day... (5, Insightful)

cunina (986893) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937939)

Yes, because any criticism of a union equates to an endorsement of a regressive workers-be-damned plutocracy.

Re:Back in the day... (3, Funny)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938079)

Welcome to Slashdot. :) There are no shades of grey here. You must think in binary. You either 100% agree something or you 100% oppose it. Quit being a waffler! :p

Re:Back in the day... (2, Interesting)

91degrees (207121) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937695)

Quite true. I bet if you could find people willing to pay the prices they were paying (adjusted for inflation) on a flight, you'd be able to offer an unparalleled service, where everyone travelled first class, champagne was free, tickets would be transferable, and the airline would treat every customer as a prince.

Prices would be 3-4 times the price they are now so such luxuries would be easily affordable by an airline.

yep (4, Insightful)

Quadraginta (902985) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938147)

Here's [verizon.net] an amusing site y'all can slashdot, comparing flying the 1960s to the present. A few points the guy makes:

Flying was expensive. For example: A round trip ticket between Cleveland and Washington D.C. was about $75. This doesn't sound like a bad deal, until you adjust the fare for inflation: That's over $400 in today's dollars! By contrast, I recently paid less than $100 for a round trip between Cleveland and Washington on one of today's low-cost deregulated carriers.

There was no point in shopping around for the best deal, because all airfares were controlled by regulation. If a roundtrip ticket between Cleveland and Washington was $75 on one airline, it was $75 on all the airlines.

The vast majority of the passengers were businessmen. White male businessmen. Occasional families. Very few minorities, and virtually no women travelling independently.

Food and drinks were almost always served, no matter how short the flight. Because there was no price competition, the airlines had to compete based on service. It was amazing to watch the stewardesses hustle to serve everyone on a quick trip, while constantly tugging at their skirts to retain some modesty.

Sure, that sounds high-class, I guess, if you were a member of the flying aristocracy.

Re:Back in the day... (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937751)

Airline passengers were the very wealthy elites, now they're not.

As were the airline executives. Funny, only part of the equation has changed over the years...

Despite this "Terminal Chaos" (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937305)

Air flight is cheap enough that it has become the trailways bus of today. The reason everything was so nice and dressed up because it was so expensive it selected out the riff-raff.

I know it doesn't fit the current lefty memes, but deregulation made air flight the everyman's mode of transportation.

Re:Despite this "Terminal Chaos" (1)

seattle-pk (1252976) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937673)

Mod parent up - it's well documented that flying was an activity limited to those of high society back in the day. Like most all technologies, what is cost-prohibitive at one era generally becomes affordable the next. Cars were once a privilege, rather than a right that most Americans look at them today. Once they became cheap however, that's when congestion started and road rage emerged. This isn't a post to defend the airlines industry or the regulators, far from it, but it weakens the author's legitimate arguments when he uses an invalid comparison.

If that was the case... (-1)

hellfire (86129) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937829)

Why are bus and train routes on time more often than planes?

Why are so many flights cancelled?

Why are there so many frequent flyer mileage packages which give perks to people who are clearly NOT the everyman?

I fly occassionally, twice a year if I'm lucky, round trip, with connections. 5 out of 8 plans I've flown on were delayed. One of them was the first leg in my last trip home, and it was delayed taking off due to some maintenance screwup and I missed my connection. More than anything, I do NOT want to be stuck overnight in an airport terminal trying to get home.

If they have to raise their prices, so be it. But you aren't treated like the everyman on an airline, you are treated like crap.

Re:Despite this "Terminal Chaos" (0, Troll)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937903)

The reason everything was so nice and dressed up because it was so expensive it selected out the riff-raff.

I don't see many of the near homeless riding in coach, and I daresay that while first-class is fairly quiet (or the curtain is sound-proof), anyone can be an ass. Money and/or social standing has no bearing on how much of a jerk you can be in any given situation.

Re:Despite this "Terminal Chaos" (4, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937993)

It's not just that. For those who have no idea what an absolute mess our airline system is, you can read this book, but for more entertainment value, I also recommend Airframe by Michael Crighton. Yes, it's Crighton's usual stuff -- heavy on technical details, some of which may be flubbed. But he does grasp the complexities of air travel in the U.S. today.

We have deregulation, which lead to more passengers, more airlines, more competition, cheapter flights, etc. -- but at the same time, we failed to upgrade our infrastructure in a timely fashion. This includes our airports and the planes themselves -- many of which have been in the sky more than twice their intended service life. On top of that, our air-traffic control system is so out of date, it is being featured on an episode of Cavemen.

Anyway think of it like this: you have a system now that only upper management (aobut 100 users) uses. Now, you intend to open up the system for all 30,000 users in the entire enterprise. But instead of upgrading, management hems and haws about the cost and so you don't upgrade anything except to add couple of new front-end servers, and the backend servers don't get upgraded at all.

That's what's happened to the airline industry.

Fixed that for you (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937323)

Today's airline traveler considers it a near miracle if his flight arrives on time with his baggage that he was forced to pay extra for.
There, fixed that for you.

Re:Fixed that for you (2, Funny)

Fast Thick Pants (1081517) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937745)

Anecdote of bygone times: Some years back I actually packed in my luggage a spare tire which I had borrowed and was returning. Very large, very heavy bag. The baggage agent demanded to know what it was, gave me some dirty looks, but let it pass (with no extra fee.) I just can't imagine what they'd think and/or charge if someone tried that today.

The explanation is obvious (5, Informative)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937327)

The reason there are so many problems is that the cost is too cheap.
The price per ticket isn't enough to cover the cost of doing business, so more and more items get cut.
Boarding because a cattle car types of efficiency, service goes down, everybody becomes rushed, the aircraft become packed, and so on.

Don't get me wrong, flying 1000 miles for 3 hundred bucks round trip is great, but lets not kid ourselves. If we want service to go back to the 1960s level of service, the costs should at least be as much as it was in 1960s plus inflation and fuel cost increases.

Re:The explanation is obvious (4, Insightful)

Bearpaw (13080) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937391)

If we want service to go back to the 1960s level of service, the costs should at least be as much as it was in 1960s plus inflation and fuel cost increases.

At which point, it'll be cost-effective to install and operate a nation-wide high-speed passenger and light-cargo rail service network.

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937509)

I have my doubts. Rail systems are expensive, and they don't bring the same value to the table as aircraft do. Namely, time.

They also don't bring to the table what the automobile does. namely, freedom.

Re:The explanation is obvious (4, Insightful)

EMeta (860558) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937687)

Much of the time advantage of rail over plane is lost with the "Please be at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight" requirements.

Re:The explanation is obvious (3, Insightful)

Josh Booth (588074) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937735)

Yeah, but rail systems rarely made money on moving people. Every long distance hauler is really a way to move cargo, with the government mandating they throw on x number of passenger cars or something. And if you have a good enough system of long-haul, light rail, commuter bus and taxi service, not to mention new things like rentable bikes and publicly shared cars, all synchronized with our brand new internet, then you could get from here to anywhere in a minimal number of hops and cost, while also assuring fairly managed resources. So, like routing packets on the internet.

Re:The explanation is obvious (4, Informative)

Tuzanor (125152) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937765)

First, nobody said get rid of the automobile.

Also, high speed rail (300km/h) is already widely deployed in Europe and Japan. And time is where they do shine. I can go from Central Paris to Central London (465) in less than 3 hours. I can board the train 15 minutes before it leaves. To fly, it's an hour to the airport, plus I'd have to arrive at the airport 2 hours early, wait in 3 different queues (check-in, security, boarding) fly for an hour, arrive, wait for my luggage(at least half hour), and then an hour into the city.

Obviously this is different going from NY to LA, but amongst denser areas of the US (north-east, california) this is feasible within 1000km distances.

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

bucky0 (229117) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937991)

They upgraded the eurostar line and you can make the trip from london->paris in 2hr 15min

I agree with the rest though. There's a lot of 'sister cities', even in the south that could stand to have transportation from one to another.

Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama or maybe Nashville/Knoxville/Chattanooga, Tennessee could use a system like that.

Re:The explanation is obvious (2, Interesting)

Rob Kaper (5960) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938027)

To fly, it's an hour to the airport, plus I'd have to arrive at the airport 2 hours early, wait in 3 different queues (check-in, security, boarding) fly for an hour, arrive, wait for my luggage(at least half hour), and then an hour into the city.

The two hours rule is only there to spread the queues.

And you are really showing the worst case scenario. Even at major airports you can easily arrive less than an hour prior to your flight and do a kiosk check-in within five minutes. Security varies (it's worse in the UK) but modern airports combine security with boarding which again takes twenty minutes maximum if you choose not to arrive at the gate an hour in advance.

Local airports are even better, I can catch a seven o'clock flight here in Rotterdam leaving my house at six, half five if I choose public transportation instead of a taxi.

While that might be a best case scenario, it should also be included in a fair analysis of air travel. Yes, I might pay fifty or even a hundred euro more, but it does save me the time and cost of travel to/from and time of pre/post-boarding holdups of bigger airports. While prices are still comparable with high-speed trains even for those non-budget flights.

And sometimes there simply isn't another option: by train I can't get to London before noon or leave past five, making a single day business trip nearly impossible and a short vacation quite inefficient when it comes to cost versus time spent at location - hotels cost a lot as well and despite common belief, days off in Europe aren't unlimited. (The argument becomes even bigger when using the American amount of holidays.)

Re:The explanation is obvious (4, Insightful)

Bearpaw (13080) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937767)

I have my doubts. Rail systems are expensive, and they don't bring the same value to the table as aircraft do. Namely, time.

That's true for cross-country flights, but the comparison is much less lop-sided for closer cities.

They also don't bring to the table what the automobile does. namely, freedom.

Apples and rutabagas. Although if rail got the same backing from public funds that autos do ... well. (Also, a lot of that "freedom" is as imaginary as car commercials.)

Re:The explanation is obvious (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937841)

Yes because there is no place for a middle ground.
I'm french and our HSR network works fairly well. Japan has an extensive HSR network as well. And in Europe, Spain has a very ambitious plan to build HSR everywhere. Germany and Italy also have HSR.

HSR brings two things: no security checks on departure, correct time on medium distance (300 miles to 500 miles). Better regularity than planes: a train on time is not news, a plane on time is. Comfort is better in a train (even french TGV which are the less confortable of HSR are better than planes). Luggages are not weight limited in trains (provided you are reasonable)
and you don't play surplus on them. You can use electrical appliances in trains and even your cell phone. And the best things about trains (which is not inherent): train operators will sell you a one way ticket at a reasonable price. Another advantages (maybe not so much in US) is that trains leave you at the center of the city not 10km away.

Bording trains is faster: 8 doors for 540 passengers compared to one door for 200 passengers.

So yes, HSR tracks are expensive but roads are too, and airports are too. They're all funded by your taxes too. Now HSR is not good for 2500 miles but they should do the tricks for intrastate travel

I'm curious (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937859)

Why are you bringing up cars in this context? Do planes bring more "freedom" than rail? I would say that, quite to the contrary, if by "freedom" you mean either more options for starting point and destination or freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, rail has it all over airplanes.

Re:The explanation is obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937895)

Just because you'll have to do a little walking from the terminal to your destination, you're suddenly no longer free? I never realized freedom was limited to roads. I never imagined my back yard was actually part of a hidden despotic zone.

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937743)

At which point, it'll be cost-effective to install and operate a nation-wide high-speed passenger and light-cargo rail service network.

It will NEVER be cost-effective to install and operate a nationwide high-speed rail service network in the United States.

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

Tuzanor (125152) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937811)

NEVER say never. They could do it up and down both coasts and it'd be a start.

They said the same thing with the interstate once...

Re:The explanation is obvious (2, Funny)

Bearpaw (13080) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937827)

It will NEVER be cost-effective to install and operate a nationwide high-speed rail service network in the United States.

Because, of course, trains would need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react.

Facts, please. (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937875)

Just one would be a nice start.

Re:The explanation is obvious (4, Funny)

c_jonescc (528041) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937909)

It is ALWAYS more efficient to simply state something with capital letters, instead of producing an actual piece of evidence, AND IT'S JUST AS EFFECTIVE!

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

bucky0 (229117) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938015)

Really?

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937797)

light rail... re-modernizing cities... oh noooo!
(all the republicans jump out the window)

Republicans backing rail (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937905)

Actually, with things as they are, more and more Republicans *are* backing rail. I damn near sprayed soda when I read that Trent Lott was one of the backers of the recent move to increase funding for Amtrak. When people with money start taking trains, as has now happened, Republicans suddenly start to care about rail service. Whodathunk?

You are an idiot, and here is why (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937893)

from: http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/why-trains-just-dont-work-in-america/ [pajamasmedia.com]

I just want to make it clear from the outset: I love trains. When I lived in New York and Connecticut, I rode trains regularly, just because I like them; they're far more comfortable that flying, and you don't have the hassles. I could walk to Penn Station, walk onto a train, and be in Washington or Boston or Hartford or Pittsburgh in a few hours, with pleasant scenery and the real chance of pleasant companionship. When I lived in Germany, I used the train to visit my employer's home office in Paris: I could pick up the Schlafwagen in Basel, sleep overnight, and be in Paris when I woke up. My grandfather was part owner of the shortest main-line railroad in the world; when my peers were playing with toy trains, I was playing on a real 2-8-0 Baldwin steam engine built in 1890. I really like trains.

So when Megan McArdle says "America's freight rail system ... is world-class. Its passenger rail should be too," I'm naturally inclined to agree with her. It positively breaks my heart to have to say "no, actually it shouldn't. Passenger rail is almost certainly never going to work again, at least as a national transport system."

As usual, what's thwarting my dreams of elegant dinners in the first-class dining car with Myrna Loy is arithmetic. Well, that and the fact that Myrna Loy died in 1993. Let's just compare passenger trains and airplanes on three trips I'm likely to take for business in the next few months: Denver to Los Angeles, Denver to New York City, and Denver to Washington, DC.

TRIP Train Train Plane Plane
Den-DC $554 74 hours $410 16 hours $1,778 (roomette)
Den-LA $426 54 hours $179 12 hours S1,232 (roomette)
Den-NYC $655 90 hours $428 18 hours $2,002 (roomette)
For purposes of comparison, I'm taking cost and travel time from the Amtrak website and the Frontier Airlines website, traveling to arrive at the destination city on July 15, 2008, and leave for home on July 18; if there are any options, I'm taking the least expensive routing. Travel times are totaled for the round trip, and include three hours per flight added for getting to the airport and getting through security, and transit time from the airport to and from the city center on each trip. Notice, by the way, that this gives trains an inherent advantage, since the train station is usually in the city center.

The table tells the tale, I think. The train is from one and a half to five times as expensive, and takes four and a half to five times as long, turning a four-day trip into seven or eight days.

Re:The explanation is obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937915)

I'd like an alternative within my lifetime, thank you.

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

j-pimp (177072) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938023)

At which point, it'll be cost-effective to install and operate a nation-wide high-speed passenger and light-cargo rail service network.

How about expanding our heavy rail system putting lightrail systems in local areas that don't need full train service? We can run 2 car light rail systems in the suburbs. The cities should all get subways like NYC.

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

Kingrames (858416) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938041)

Like... a MONORAIL!

Re:The explanation is obvious (3, Funny)

spun (1352) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937405)

The price per ticket isn't enough to cover the cost of doing business,
Yeah, but the make up for it in volume.

Re:The explanation is obvious (2, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937787)

Mostly true, but for how much longer? The Dreamliner is selling surprisingly well, given that it's so tiny, and the Airbus 400 generally isn't. This indicates that the trend towards increased volume has started to reverse. The pressure on airports like Heathrow to add runways is an indication that airliners are aiming to increase the number of flights rather than the number of overall passengers. This is Not Good, for many reasons (air pollution, noise pollution, increased collision risks, etc).

Re:The explanation is obvious (1, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937417)

but the title isn't. I thought it was about, you know, terminals. Computer terminals. Those greenish or yellowish screens with letters and numbers.

I'll just go back to sleep now. (Posted after flying from the Galapagos to Alaska - I don't want to even think about airline terminals right now. And I'm looking at you Miami International "Airport". I'm swimming next time.

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

WMD_88 (843388) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937611)

Miami International "Airport"

I prefer to call it "Miami International Construction Zone and Narcotics Terminal." :) I live closer to FLL, but Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Construction Zone isn't much better.

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937855)

What I liked best about MIA was the sign "Most Improved Airport in 2008" (according to some group that no one has ever heard about).

Talking about damning by faint praise. I pity the fools that went through there last year.

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937469)

Exactly. You get what you pay for, and airlines run on ridiculously narrow margins. A modern airliner costs about the same as a skycraper. Then factor in that you have a fleet of hundreds of these, each taking on tens of thousands of gallons of fuel, and that the whole thing is still easily susceptible to the weather, and you realize taht economic disaster is far more likely than success.

Re:The explanation is obvious (5, Funny)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937533)

"A modern airliner costs about the same as a skycraper."

Wow, that's a deal. Most airliners have 2 or more skycrappers in them.

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

SomeGuyTyping (751195) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937869)

I'm not sure that makes any sense

Re:The explanation is obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937919)

it's funny because the WTC fell down when some airplanes hit them. LOLOLOL

Re:The explanation is obvious (2, Insightful)

c_jonescc (528041) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937721)

Those that do pay for service get it. I fly enough that I get moved to first class a few times a year, and most of these frustrations go out the window when your ticket is worth 5x the other passengers. The airlines mark your bag with a 'priority' badge to make sure it doesn't go missing; you're the first on the plane (and have coffee in hand before the rest of the seats know if they're being bumped) and the first off; you have one attendant for roughly a dozen people in some cases, while the back of the plane has only two; you're served a full meal that's actually edible (sometimes), instead of paying for pretzels.

And, with pushes for special security lines for the frequent flyers, or just plane rich, the primary frustration of flying will diminish too - all for a cost.

There is that level of service, and you can buy it. To say that there should be no lesser services at a lesser cost, and that the poor should just ride the bus is simply elitist. (Note - parent didn't say this, but it's already popping up in the comments)

Re:The explanation is obvious (1)

mshannon78660 (1030880) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938111)

I don't buy that argument - the two airlines that I know of that are profitable and expanding are JetBlue and Southwest - and Southwest at least has already publicly said that they won't be following American et al. in charging for bags - so it is clearly possible to make money at today's prices.

union problem? (4, Insightful)

belmolis (702863) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937379)

While I don't dispute that unions are sometimes a problem, I wonder how much the union is to blame in this case. One hears regular reports of understaffing and impossible work conditions for air traffic controllers, and these seem quite plausible given what an intricate and high-stress job it is together with the antiquated computer systems they have to use, which don't provide very good support. Back in 1980 the main issue in the air traffic controllers' strike was working conditions, not wages and benefits. When Reagan broke the union and fired the air traffic controllers, wasn't that a huge blow to reform?

Re:union problem? (4, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937479)

The Union is not and was not the problem in this case. In 1981 the Union was right and Reagan was very lucky that there wasn't a major air disaster because of his actions. As was the case for basically every action of that Administration, ideology triumphed over both reality and common sense.

Re:union problem? (2, Insightful)

Bearpaw (13080) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937521)

Back in 1980 the main issue in the air traffic controllers' strike was working conditions, not wages and benefits. When Reagan broke the union and fired the air traffic controllers, wasn't that a huge blow to reform?

Seems like it might've been, yup.

They also question how NATCA gets away with constantly stating that the US air traffic control system is the safest in the world, when it is actually behind Europe when it comes to safety metrics (Europe has .032 hull losses per 1 million departures vs. .049 in North America).
They get away with it because it's a tradition that practically no-one questions. All you have to do is say "The US is the bestest in the world when it comes to [x]" and few people bother checking. (Except "America-haters", of course.)

Re:union problem? (1)

I Want to be Anonymo (1312257) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938019)

They also question how NATCA gets away with constantly stating that the US air traffic control system is the safest in the world, when it is actually behind Europe when it comes to safety metrics (Europe has .032 hull losses per 1 million departures vs. .049 in North America).

They get away with it because it's a tradition that practically no-one questions. All you have to do is say "The US is the bestest in the world when it comes to [x]" and few people bother checking. (Except "America-haters", of course.)

Perhaps because the ratio of hull losses related to ATC is better in the US.
I don't know that, just sayin'...

YUO FAIL IT (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937385)

There's something on the wing! (4, Funny)

nmb3000 (741169) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937387)

If one looks at pictures of airline flights from the 1960s, you will see well-dressed passengers enjoying their flight.

I beg to differ! [wikipedia.org] .

In any case, some of it is probably just a reaction to more modern events and mindsets. Nowadays, instead of "Oh, it's a distraught passenger who doesn't like flying" it's "OMGTERRORIST". Airlines overbooking flights and employing shoddy baggage handling techniques doesn't help anything either.

Terminal chaos (2, Funny)

saunabad (664414) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937413)

Airlines? For a moment I thought the title was about utf-8 and scandinavian alphabet configuration mayhem in terminal emulators.

A little overstated. (3, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937435)

I fly every week, I have never seen a case of air rage, and I have never lost a bag. I think that the case is over stated.

It is true that there are too many small flights, which waste both gas and airport slots. But the overall system works decently well IMHO.

Re:A little overstated. (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937675)

Like most things in modern society, it is due to far more prevalent information. Abuse is lower, but incidents are reported more. Crime is down, but every criminal is on the 5pm news. People are living longer although everything you do will kill you.

Re:A little overstated. (1)

jsailor (255868) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938031)

I fly every week, sometimes multiple trips per week and I mostly agree with you.

However ...
1. Flight delays are horrendous
2. Charging for checked baggage makes the already abused carry-on baggage situation worse
3. Lack of coordination and insufficient staff at the gates make boarding disorganized
4. Airlines are always slow to update flight times. http://www.fly.faa.gov/flyfaa/usmap.jsp [faa.gov] gives you a good idea of what may happen to you, but then you need to find out whether your plane is coming from (or through) a troubled airport.
5. Congestion at LGA, ORD, EWR, JFK and I'm sure many others is constant and should be dealt with.
6. Policies that encourage planes to "push back" only to have you wait for an hour+ on the tarmac are detrimental.

What do you expect? (1)

al0ha (1262684) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937437)

Ultra low prices = ultra lean operations = less employees = ultra lack of service = pissed off customers. How stupid is the airline race to the bottom? Flying is not a right, just like driving. Raise the prices and those who can't afford it well, take a bus, train or ship.

Security theater (3, Informative)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937489)

If I'd be forced to guess I would say that the security theater methods actually increase violence on the plane, due to people getting annoyed and doing stupid things. Therefor this security measure might actually cost lives, instead of saving them.

Re:Security theater (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23938083)

They might. And brick houses MIGHT be more prone to burning down than wooden ones. Anything MIGHT be true.

So before you resort to scaremongering comments about "ACTUALLY costing lives," care to cite a case where you feel a life was lost due to violence on a plane from an enraged passenger?

I can't believe they overlooked it! (1)

HitekHobo (1132869) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937553)

Don't rabid anti-smoking laws even get acknowledged?

When you talk about irritable passengers, you have to at least give a nod to the two pack a day man who has to go without a fix from the time he arrives at the airport until he departs. Maybe he'll get lucky and he can go sit in the bullet-proof glassed room with it's own ventilation system, but even that has to annoy him quite a bit.

Isn't there a lot of tobacco use in the Mideast? Are we really sure that terrorism isn't just a form of protesting the loss of a man's right to give himself lung cancer anywhere he chooses?

Re:I can't believe they overlooked it! (0)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937635)

"...give himself and others lung cancer anywhere he chooses?"

There, fixed it for you.

Re:I can't believe they overlooked it! (3, Insightful)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938127)

A smoker who can't handle going without his fix for 6 hours can stay the fuck off my airplane, thanks. If your addictions are so massively out of control that you go into rage mode at 30,000 feet, you should be prosecuted, not coddled. Two pack a day man can get a grip or not fly.

Well not related (1)

dedazo (737510) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937565)

But I was at the airport this morning dropping off a friend who was getting on a US Airways flight to the States. It turns out that you now have to pay $25 for the second check-in bag, where before both were free of charge as long as they were under 50lb.

The more the goddamn airlines nickel and dime us to death, the less we'll fly, and the less money they'll make. Hello vicious circle. And screw the damn airlines. I haven't enjoyed getting on a plane since the early 80s when I proudly flew Braniff...

Re:Well not related (3, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937837)

I'd much rather they charge people with 2 bags more than they charge me and my 1 bag than I would they charge everybody the same.

The pricing structure of 2007 is not compatible with the fuel prices of 2008; charging Mr. 2 bags is not nickel and diming, it is staying in business.

Given that... (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937567)

..."hull loss" generally means either "we are picking up fragments of the aircraft with tweezers" or "ooops, was that the end of the runway?", any achievable value is higher than you'd like. In fact, as a function of overall system quality, the measured value will be asymtotic to some non-zero value that is the practical "best" you can theoretically achieve. You will never reach this "best" value, it is only theoretical, but you can get as close to it as you like. Since this is the "best", however, the metric should be relative to it and not to zero. It's senseless to measure relative to a value substantially lower than the achievable limit. It's like talking about negative degrees kelvin, it has no meaning.

Unions? (1, Interesting)

bjourne (1034822) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937571)

How are unions to blame for whatever is wrong with flying in the US?

Re:Unions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23938161)

Having unions protect employees in a customer service oriented business results in employees getting away with mistreating customers/baggage/etc and much more easily than otherwise.

safety comparison (3, Insightful)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937579)

when [the U.S.] is actually behind Europe when it comes to safety metrics (Europe has .032 hull losses per 1 million departures vs. .049 in North America).

You've gone from an argument about the U.S. to cite statistics from North America - which, as you may have noticed, contains other nations. And you've not taken into account differences of flight distances or number of passengers per flight; I would think a much more useful number would be deaths per passenger-mile.

If you're directly quoting an argument from the book, this puts s large hole in its credibility.

Re:safety comparison (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937753)

Most problems are during take-off and landing, when the largest stresses / changing conditions are applied to the vehicle.

Per flight is a reasonable metric, as "while flying" issues are minimal.

It's all because John Wayne is no lonvger with us. (5, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937589)

barely a day goes by without an incident of air rage

That's because 40 years ago, someone who started pitching a violent and/or profane fit in close quarters where other people had paid for a service (like watching a movie or traveling for a few hours) could reasonably expect a sound thumping from someone willing to shut them up. And no jury in the world would give the person doing the thumping a hard time. Shame used to be a useful tool. There was a time when acting like an ass in public carried with it a certain stigma. Now it's celebrated in the news, and is a point of pride in many a music video. This is simply about bad manners made the norm, and a culture of victimhood-as-virtue that provides cover for every mis-step (including the deliberate variety), and which condems anyone looking to deny someone that cover as being somehow cruel. We've become a coddling culture, and this is the price we pay. It's no mystery. Every one of those screaming kids you see in the grocery store today will become the asshat in seat 30B on your flight to Chicago.

Re:It's all because John Wayne is no lonvger with (2, Funny)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938011)

Every one of those screaming kids you see in the grocery store today will become the asshat in seat 30B on your flight to Chicago.
Or the asshat working for the TSA. [youtube.com]

Re:It's all because John Wayne is no lonvger with (1)

whodkne (778580) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938075)

AMEN! Mod this up! +Insightful

Re:It's all because John Wayne is no lonvger with (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23938085)

^^^^
This guy just gets it.
He groks.
He knows where his towel is.

Re:It's all because John Wayne is no lonvger with (4, Funny)

dirkbaztard (1297993) | more than 5 years ago | (#23938101)

Yeah! That's what we need. Let's thaw out The Duke, and let him and John Cassavetes, and Lee Marvin, and Charles Bronson, and Clint Eastwood, and Chuck Norris be on all the flights they can cover. That will make air travel safer and more enjoyable. At least on those flights.

Yet another reason to rebuild our rail system. (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937615)

I agree that air travel is pretty screwed up. But afaic, for trips of a thousand miles or less we would be far better off focusing our attention on our equally fubared rail system. You want cheap, efficient transit, a system that goes straight from downtown to downtown? Join NARP [narprail.org] , call your congress critter to not just increase funding but have their policy geeks pay more attention to rail, and damnit, if you're serious about being a geek, get into this stuff yourself. At this point we would gain more from having more folks get into designing better rail systems than yet one more programmer responding to yet another project call on Freshmeat. Get together with some friends and build your own monorail system [monorails.org] . It's cheaper than most Burning Man projects and a far more effective way to freak the mundanes for years to come.

Amtrak has their head up their butt. But there are a hell of a lot of other transit systems out there. And they're all dealing with swiftly increasing demand. It's past time that we shone the spotlight on them.

Though fwiw, I will be buying this book. (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937657)

And reading it, passing it around, and, if it's as good as this review makes it sound, getting a copy for policy folks working for *my* congresscritters.

*US* air travel (1)

Rob Kaper (5960) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937621)

The title is: "Terminal Chaos: Why U.S. Air Travel Is Broken and How to Fix It", emphasis mine.

Yes, yes, I know.. I shouldn't be another one of us here who fly the European flag in discussions. But...

I tend to expect my flights on time because they usually are, on short-haul they often arrive prior to schedule. I get excellent service even on the budget flights.. the drinks might cost me but I get them just fine. Except for Sky Alliance flights (KLM-AirFrance, Delta) I expect my luggage to arrive with me.

Security is a bit of a nuisance, but I experience longer queues for most concerts, football matches, and so on.

Then again, this has always been my experience outside of Europe as well, so maybe I'm just very lucky?

co3k (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937637)

Idiotic Nostalgia (3, Insightful)

netsavior (627338) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937737)

If one looks at pictures of airline flights from the 1960s, you will see well-dressed passengers enjoying their flight.

In 1950 an airline ticket was $325... or about $2800 adjusted for today's dollars... So there was a slightly different class of people

additionally there were significantly LESS people per flight, per terminal, and per airline.

Maybe a better comparison would be modern Airlines to 1960s busses.

Never attribute to mischief... (2, Informative)

Plugh (27537) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937781)

... what can be safely explained by bumbling bureaucratic government incompetence.

Dude, (1)

Gat0r30y (957941) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937793)

In 2008, barely a day goes by without an incident of air rage, from irate passengers in the terminal, to those in the air causing flights to be diverted.
Which is why SAFER is trying to get some ganga [foxnews.com] into the airport.

Publisher is wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937805)

The full name of the publisher is American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Many issues at hand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23937861)

One of the biggest issues is the lack of ground resource capacity (runways, taxiways, gates, etc). Today's planes spend a huge amount of time waiting on the ground. This is one reason that a 2 hour flight 50 years ago is scheduled as a 3 hour flight today, despite the air speed difference.

The only way to solve this particular problem is to either a) build new airports, or b) expand existing airports. Everyone seems to want more efficient airline service, but no one wants a new/expanded airline in their neighborhood.

Summary: "They let the plebs in..." (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937889)

In the 1960s only the "Jet Set" flew.

You want to avoid the air rage, the airport queues, etc. then do what the modern Jet Set do - get yourself a jet. Problem solved.

Another change over time... (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 5 years ago | (#23937917)

Is that whether we like it or not, our lifestyles have made air travel into a necessity for many. Sure, you can drive from New York to LA, but would that make sense if you're going there for a business trip?

While it is true that flight used to be a privilege for the wealthy elite, there is a lot more expected out of everyone now. My wife has already flown three times for business this year, and myself once. And our combined income doesn't reach six figures before taxes. Add to that flights to visit family (within very narrow vacation schedules), and you see that our lives have come to be dependent on the ability to fly to our destination.

Lastly I will add that some airlines provide a very reasonable level of service for the dollar. Others, of course, treat customers like cattle. Oddly enough, one of the ones that does not treat me like cattle comes from a state that raises a lot of cattle - and the converse also applies. I had a 1.5 hour layover in EWR two weeks ago, and the airline even gave the waiting passengers free soda and pretzels for our inconvenience. Of course that didn't cost them much, but I would say it helped quite a bit in calming the masses.
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