Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Overheard on an airliner somewhere in the USA . . .

Boarding passenger: "I just got stung by a bee outside the airport and it hurts like heck. Do you have some ice I could put on it?"

Pilot, standing next to cabin attendant at the door: "That'll be one dollar."

Cabin attendant: "Sure. I'll get it for you."

Passenger: "Could you put the ice cube in a plastic bag?"

Pilot: "That'll be $3.00."

The pilot was only kidding about the charges, of course. But this incident really did happen and heaven only knows we're getting nickled and dimed with extra charges by our airlines. The whole air transport system is a mess. The Federal Aviation Administration . . . the airports . . . and the airlines.

It kind of reminds me of "Black Friday" at the Oshkosh air show back in the 70's. For the week of the annual airshow, the tower at Oshkosh is the busiest airport tower in the world. And the mix of aircraft is astounding: single wing, bi-wing, wierd looking experimental home builts, airliners, WWII bombers and fighters, jets and on one occasion a supersonic jet when the Concorde came calling. The tower staff is beefed up with visiting air traffic controllers from all over the U.S. In those days pilots were asked to identify themselves by color and aircraft design only; yellow Piper cub or blue Bonanza, rather than by their identifying numbers. No time for numbers. (Don't know if that is still true today.) They entered the landing pattern at the gravel pit not far from the landing strip. There was a loudspeaker by the runway broadcasting the tower chatter to fascinated air show attendees.

On "Black Friday" it was one of the controllers whose number was up. He was rattling off instructions to his beehive of airplanes circling overhead, his voice rising with each directive, when out of the blue he cried, "Okay - that 's it! Everybody back to the gravel pit!"

There was a long silence. A very calm and reassuring different voice came over the radio and somehow managed to sort out the disaster with no serious repercussions. For years they sold audio tapes of "Black Friday at Oshkosh."

Maybe we need a calm and reassuring different voice to sort out the current air transport system in the U.S. of A? Believe me, I have no idea who or what that is. It just occurs to me that the trouble started when the airlines were deregulated, which put incredible pressure on airports, airways and airlines to accomodate more, more, and more flights. Maybe we should be thinking about regulating our air transport system again? I don't know. Just musing. Your thoughts?


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