Leonard Zwelling

The most common faculty complaint I heard as a vice president was, “you didn’t ask me; you didn’t tell me.” I think this is fair.

In a country that used to be a democracy, most people still want a say in what happens to them and the relevant information when things are happening to them.

What about the airlines?

As with most Houstonians, most of my air travel is with United. That airline basically controls Bush and at this point I have so many frequent flyer miles with them, I can’t afford not to use them. This is to my eternal regret, although I don’t believe there is a real difference among domestic carriers in the issues that matter, on-time service and courteous help. Sure, Emirates Air can provide you with a hotel suite on a luxury liner for a small fortune, but for the regular flying public, moving between cities in the U. S., I am not really sure one carrier is any better or worse than any other especially when it comes to delays.

There are a few major causes of delays.

Number one is weather and there’s not a whole lot an airline can do about the weather.

Number two is mechanical failures and I suppose that they are part of running a complex business endeavor that uses sophisticated machinery to accomplish its goals.

Number three is the crew didn’t get enough rest issue which is inexcusable. That should be manageable, but it is number three.

I am currently in the Presidents Club having been victimized by first two and now one. The plane we were supposed to take to New York had a mechanical issue and by the time it was either fixed or the plane replaced, the weather on the east coast mandated an air traffic control slow down which has kept us very late indeed. Fortunately, we had no plans in New York tonight because we would not have made them. The first delay had me making a dinner reservation in lieu of trying to see a show, but I even had to cancel that as we will probably not get to Manhattan until 9 PM, if then.

What amazes me is that as technology becomes more sophisticated, as weather prognostication gets better, as computers and algorithms become more powerful, the entire air travel system gets worse. The only thing that gets better is the airline’s ability to tell you it’s getting worse. We left the house at 9:30 AM and are still sitting in the lounge at 1:30 PM and probably this trip will turn out to be a twelve-hour odyssey simply due to delays that could have been avoided with a little planning or an earlier warning of the broken plane.

The airlines are strained. There’s apparently a shortage of qualified pilots and the number of planes in the air is greater than ever. The hospitals are getting the same way. If you have been to one of late, it is likely that you are waiting for your labs, your x-rays and the visit with your doctor in three separate waiting rooms in a day-long slog for medical care. It seems to be getting worse despite all the complex scheduling tools available to the administrators of health care delivery systems.

My guess is that all of this is only going to get worse even yet. Have you tried getting anywhere in Houston lately? Not easy. Traffic is awful and all the streets are being torn up. Many are long overdue for repair but it always seems to be happening where you are. Probably it is.

As I have gotten older and particularly as I no longer work full time, I would have thought this would all roll off me. It doesn’t. Life seems to have become more complex as the machines we use to aid us in our pursuits become more clever. Now why should that be? You would think this would all get better.

Some day weather can be more accurately predicted and airlines can make accommodations in advance that warn you not to leave the house because your flight is going to be delayed. They will have enough planes to roll one out when one breaks. And as for the crews, well let’s hope planning gets them both enough rest and a enough punctuality to keep us flying as close to on time as possible.

Hey, I can hope, right?

In the mean time, delays are just part of air travel. The part that bothers me is if I had been flying west today, I could have been in Hawaii, by the time I get to Manhattan today. Better golf, fewer Broadway shows.

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