19 March 2012


I have several pet peeves with the U.S. airline industry.  One is the hub-and-spoke system, in which passengers from most cities are routed through a regional hub airport before continuing to their destination.  It may be superficially more efficient for the airlines, but it adds millions of hours of travel time annually for passengers, compared to having more direct flights between cities (which would generate more jobs and a demand for more aircraft, as well as relieve aircraft congestion at current hub airports).

Another peeve is the decline in passenger comfort (and, I would argue, safety) created by jamming more and more seats into the same internal space within an aircraft.  I first flew on a commercial jetliner in 1968, and since that time, leg room has shrunk to near zero, and seats have become narrower.  If the passenger ahead of me reclines his seat, he's right in my lap.  And at 5'9", I'm not a tall man.  Imagine the discomfort for someone like my son, who tops out at around 6'3".  The airlines may eke out more income by overbooking flights and treating people like sardines, but ultimately they're doing their public image no good.  Nickel-and-diming people to death by charging for services which once were free (meals, baggage, movie headsets) is being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Yet another peeve is (you guessed it) airport security.  Does anyone really feel any safer, and is the tradeoff in time and inconvenience worth it?  TSA came into existence as a direct result of the 9/11 attacks, and the evolution of security measures has consistently been haphazard and reactive.  Remember the goofball who tried to set of a bomb in his shoe?  That's when we had to start taking our shoes off for inspection.  There is little if any proactive thinking going on.  

Now, another peeve to add to the list.  If you travel by air, you know that in recent years regional carriers have proliferated.  They transport passengers between smaller cities and regional hub airports, and they often sport the livery of one of the few remaining major airlines.  However, a PBS Frontline investigation revealed a reality that is far removed from appearances.  Don't assume that the pilots of a regional airline are trained to the stringent standards of the majors.  Similarly, don't assume that the aircraft are maintained to the major airlines' requirements.  It's a shell game, and the traveling public are the losers.

Sometimes fatal losers.  Remember the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 in February 2009?   Fifty people died.  The captain of that flight had previously failed three check rides (proficiency tests), and both he and his copilot were suffering from fatigue induced by their airline's grueling policy regarding minimal rest time between duty flights.  You can read a summary of the flight, and watch a video recreation of the minutes leading up to the accident, here.  And you can watch the Frontline expose here, including the program, a map showing regional airlines and their safety records, and interviews with regional pilots, industry reps, government regulators, and aviation watchdogs.  Fair warning ~ you may have second thoughts about flying on a regional carrier afterward.  

You can learn more about U.S. regional airlines, and the major air carriers with which they affiliate, here.  Having done that, you'll have some idea why my ambition is to train for my private pilot's license.

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