Be­hind the Head­lines

“Noth­ing that’s worth­while is ever easy. Re­mem­ber that”

Business Traveler (USA) - - TALKING POINT -

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

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