Padding? Or Something Reality? February 20, 2010
There was a recent discussion in the Wall Street Journal about why a flight from Los Angeles to New York, which takes six hours under ideal conditions, should be scheduled at seven hours. Some wonder whether this practice is ethical.
I say it’s quite ethical. If anything, I wonder whether they’ve padded enough. What is unethical is for them to set up a tightly wound schedule of hubbing and connections that is so fragile that it only works when it’s 70 degrees and clear skies and not a thunderhead or snowflake in the country. They say that hubbing is an efficient way to run these things. Well, it probably is. But think of it as “taking a plane to catch a plane” and the fragile nature of the thing will become apparent. If I’m taking a plane to catch another plane, I want the scheduled arrival time of the first plane not to be based on 70 degree weather and clear skies but on when this flight would have arrived 99 per cent of the time under the average of all possible conditions. (I’ll leave 1 per cent for real catastrophes. Hurricanes and tornadoes, not garden variety thunderstorms and snowstorms.) That, or stop the clock at the hub airport totally. I mean unplug it from the wall, and then plug it back in when normal flying resumes. But that alternative messes things up even more. Yes, it does take only six hours to get to New York a large percentage of the time. But every so often it takes a lot longer than that.
And as to the definition of “arrival” in a world of hubbing. It should not mean when a plane has landed. It should mean when the last passenger is free to circulate in the terminal. Usually, in America, that means when the doors are opened. But at many foreign airports, the airplanes are parked at a considerable distance from the terminal and buses drive people to the terminal. When this is the case, the airplane has “arrived” when the last shuttle bus arrives at the terminal, not before. The meaning of “arrived” should be that every passenger is free to go to his next plane, or surface transit, or baggage claim, or whatever.
So I think that the padding of schedules is actually an ethical improvement. The airlines have been known for arrogance. I personally think that the behavior of the airlines may have won more people to the Democratic Party than Barack Obama ever has!
Related: “Airline Security: The War on Service” at New Geography