Flight-Delays Dilemma

No one has any quick solutions to the problem of mounting airport delays. Airline officials, union representatives, airport executives, and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater met recently to discuss the situation. The best they could do was pledge to work more closely with each other and set up a number of task forces.

Those steps are unlikely to soothe travelers who've spent unscheduled extra hours in airports, waiting for scheduled flights to take off. But they could at least herald the start of a reasoned approach to a problem that easily slides toward mutual finger-pointing and emotion.

Everybody, no doubt, understands their bit of the problem. The airlines often overbook flights; the air-traffic control system needs to accelerate its technological upgrade; the unions should move away from work-slowing tactics that exacerbate delays; the government needs to better marshall its resources.

And, yes, poor weather is a factor too, though not the dominant one.

Underlying the crunch at the airport is a steady increase in the number of people flying. Mr. Slater forecasts 1 billion air travelers within a decade, up from 670 million expected this year. A little over 20 years ago, there were 278 million.

The air-traffic infrastructure simply has not expanded quickly enough to keep up with demand. That fact is clearly recognized now, but addressing it will take years and many tough decisions about where to make investments.

Meanwhile, creative steps should be taken to meet passengers' basic need to get where they want to go. If scheduling practices result in regular morning and afternoon jams, flights should be spread throughout the day more evenly. A lot of people would be willing to depart at odd hours if it meant less delay.

The end of the summer travel season will ease things considerably. But that shouldn't ease the commitment to tackle the long-term problems.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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