Air Traffic Uncontrolled


Air Traffic Uncontrolled


Leonard Zwelling

It’s pretty hard to plan a trip on a domestic air carrier and expect either on time departure or on time arrival. Sure, weather this time of the year can always be a factor, but that’s not what’s cancelling thousands of flights every week. It’s mismanagement and stupidity—two of the most powerful forces in the universe.

When Covid hit with a vengeance, fewer people used the airlines. To save money, the dormant carriers allowed many of their pilots to take early retirement. This is a problem because now that air travel has picked up again, there is no one around to fly the planes. The same is undoubtedly true of maintenance crews and flight attendants. Combine that with the rules about flight crews needing rest and the expected weather delays and you get many cancelled flights.

Then there’s the compounding dilemma of demand reaching an all-time high and supply being limited because of the crew depletion and the airlines being unwilling to just say no by limiting the daily flight schedule until they can get more pilots trained. Now they are saying they will be curtailing schedules soon, but people bought tickets for summer travel months ago. It’s a little late for that now.

Let’s also add the sky-rocketing price of gas making driving a costly alternative to air travel and inflation carrying the price of airfares upward and you have a perfect storm of misery for travelers. As far as I can tell, there are really few remedies available.

You can plan your trip for early in the day so that when the delay hits, you may still make it to your destination without an unplanned stay in an airport motel.

You can make absolutely sure you can get to where you are going on a non-stop flight. Connecting flights are fraught. My son was stuck in Charlotte trying to get back from Nashville to Jacksonville. If you live in a smaller market city where fewer direct flights emanate, you really do have a problem getting where you want to go.

Some folks are blaming air traffic control issues, but for the most part, my understanding is that is not really the problem. This logjam was simply the result of the money conscious senior management of the nation’s leading carriers not looking far enough ahead to the consequences of saving a few bucks by allowing early retirement of people who are not at all easy to replace and are absolutely essential employees. Furthermore, the airlines took government money to prevent these staff shortages.

Let’s also look to the Transportation Department that is scrambling to assure the American public that its airlines and airports are still functional. Not very.

In the end, as with so much of American life right now, air travel doesn’t seem to be working. The institutions upon which the public depends—Congress, the Presidency, the Supreme Court, organized medicine, the police, and the schools all seem to be failing us because of bad leadership and even worse decision making.

It’s up to us to identify leaders who can actually lead and who can put forward plans to get the country moving in the right direction again. And this cannot be 80-year old men and women at the top of our institutions. It’s time for the Boomers to bow out and give the next generation a chance. It’s hard to imagine that the next generation could do worse than mine has done especially in the White House. Of course, Obama is no Boomer and he didn’t do much better.

Does anyone want to lead us? Not you Donald and Joe. You need to retire for good–everyone’s.

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