Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

You are now free to move about the tarmac

Maybe you're tired of reading postings here about the pain of air travel, but I haven't yet tired of writing about the issue. I wish there were no need for me to do so, but since there is, I feel compelled. Especially when my loved ones have to endure the pain.

Cassie just spent a week in New Mexico. She connected through Dallas both ways, and each time had to lay over four hours on what should have been a brief connection. I would specifically call out her carrier (American), but I think the problems she experienced are common across most of the legacy airlines—and the blame for the problem on her return fell to the weather (or, more accurately, to LaGuardia Airport's inability to keep flights on time when anything more than a 2-knot breeze blows across the runway).

While the boredom of being stuck in an airport for hours is indeed painful, it's not as bad as being shut in a plane and sitting on the tarmac for the same amount of time. This seems to be happening more often than ever these days, as airlines board planes and push them away from the gate, knowing full well that the plane is going nowhere.

Sure, from a logistical point of view, it makes sense to load the plane and put it in a standby position on the tarmac, so it can take off on short notice. But how fair is that to the passengers, when it's not known when the plane will be cleared to take off, and passengers are not allowed to unbuckle and use the lavatory?

Quite often, such delays are due to safety-related weather issues, particularly here in the summer thunderstorm-prone Northeast. And in all honesty, I have no idea how dangerous it is to take off in a thunderstorm (or a 3-knot gale at LGA). But I do know that the airlines are taking the easy, convenient route when they fill planes like cattle cars and shuttle them out to the tarmac to wait God knows how long. Thank you for keeping our safety in mind, but how about you keep us all crowded into the terminal instead. We'll be just as uncomfortable, but at least we'll be able to pee when we want.

My father, a seasoned traveler himself, probably echoed the sentiments of a great many travelers when he told me the other day that he has "completely lost interest in traveling, except by car."

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