Behind the Headlines
“Nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy. Remember that”
B– Nicholas Sparks, ack in 1992, Queen Elizabeth described the 12 months preceding as the Royal Family’s “annus horribulus” – horrible year – and indeed it must have seemed that way, what with scandals, divorce, and just before Christmas, her house (well, one of them) nearly burning down. But Her Majesty, true to form, soldiered on, patched things up with her subjects and has since celebrated a Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics returning to her capital city and the birth of two great-grandchildren.
While not exactly a horrible year for the airline industry, it has been a whatever-the-Latin-word-is-for-a-couple-of-months horribilus. To say things have been bumpy is something of an understatement. Passengers have endured headline-making computer glitches and weeks of stormy weather that have created confusion and delay, and on at least one flight, several injuries.
None of this is good news for fliers, particularly business travelers. Weather delays, ATC holds, mechanicals are just part and parcel of the vagaries of air travel, but most of us this summer are thinking, enough is enough. Of course it’s not especially good news for airlines either.
As I write this, I find myself once again among the 100 millionplus souls who will traverse the world’s busiest airport this year, Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International. Passing through the concourse on the way to my flight (which, by the way, is delayed), I catch one newspaper headline that reads,“Airlines Plagued by Aging Infrastructure.”The TV in a bar is tuned to a financial news channel; the crawl at the bottom of the screen trumpets the question,“Are Airlines Too Big?”
Aviation as a commercial enterprise is just over a century old. In that relatively short span, the industry has grown from a single flight with a single passenger to millions of operations each year carrying the equivalent of half the world’s population. At the same time the business has gone from being considered risky to almost entirely routine.
In fact, one could argue that the recent failures of technology and weather have caused such a stir precisely because they’re in such contrast to the routine of flying. It’s become so ordinary we forget the complexity of the systems that support it.
Every day, hundreds of airlines send thousands of machines, each with millions of parts, hurtling though Earth’s constantly changing atmosphere at nearly the speed of sound. What could possibly go wrong? And yet day after day, thousands of times a day, the industry delivers on its promise to make air travel safe, mostly reliable and, yes, even relatively pain-free.
They’ve called my flight, so it’s time for me to pack up the laptop and get ready for the last – and best – leg of my journey, the trip home. As the pre-boarding passengers queue up, I notice a mom with her two little girls, maybe 8 and 6 years old, decked out in pink and dragging matching pink sequined roll aboard bags. When time comes to head down the jetway, the girls march up to the gate agent and confidently plop their boarding passes on the scanner. Clearly these two are seasoned travel pros.
Watching them made me think; this is the future of aviation. Whatever the complexities and vagaries, as long as there are little girls with pink sequined roll aboard bags who are ready for the experiences that only travel offers, there will be big silver birds ready to take them there.
And that’s good news for all of us. BT