Greyhound with Wings
In your January 26 issue, Kevin D. Williamson (“Unholy Alliances”) charges airlines with a “cascade of incompetence” because he has apparently been routinely and unfairly inconvenienced by them. I have been a pilot for a major U.S. airline for the past 26 years. Not once has my airline “failed to get a flight crew to the airport to man scheduled routes” due to its own incompetence. I find it laughable that after he acknowledges the ridiculous practices and “shady union goons” of the TSA, the airport authorities, and the NTSB, it never occurs to Mr. Williamson that the FAA and air-traffic control are similarly staffed. Yes, I have waited for takeoff — or been rerouted through airspace for “weather” — when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. But it has never once been my decision, or the decision of my company, to burn fuel, waste time, or miss passenger connections. Mr. Williamson might want to educate himself about onerous and undecipherable flight-duty limits (imposed on airlines by the FAA) or the unintended consequences of the “Passenger’s Bill of Rights” (imposed on airlines by politicians) before he attributes flight delays to incompetent airline employees. Capitalism indeed. No one is forcing Mr. Williamson to fly. Maybe he can submit his next diatribe about wasted time from the comfort of a Greyhound bus seat. I hear they offer WiFi these days.
Kevin D. Williamson responds: Of course the FAA and air-traffic control are part of the problem — a part that the airlines should have figured out how to deal with by now. In a sense, the airlines have developed a method for dealing with it — shifting the burden onto their customers. Travelers assume very large costs in the course of accommodating bureaucratic dysfunction at our airports; there is no natural reason that one should have to allow two hours or more to get on an airplane at JFK. But travelers deal with that, annoying as it is, while the airlines refuse to take any responsibility. The flight-duty limits are indeed complex and onerous. But coping with them is, in the end, a scheduling problem, something that a gigantic global corporation — one that is mainly in the logistics and transportation business — ought to be able to solve.
While the last time I found myself on a Greyhound I did not find the experience satisfying, the bus business does provide rather an apt point of comparison: The emergence of well-organized, comfortable, affordable alternatives to Greyhound is the type of thing that needs to happen with air travel.
I don’t expect to be making my next ORD-to-LAX journey on a bus, but I’d be tickled if I could make it on Singapore Airlines or one of the other overseas carriers barred from our domestic market by the backward protectionism that allows our familiar carriers to continue to be organized for the convenience of their employees rather than that of their customers.