Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holiday weekend worst time to fly, except for all the others.

     Everyone in the media is scrambling to fill the endless expanse of the Internet while still maintaining professional standards — I don't know if we've gotten worse at it, or I'm just noticing more surprising lapses, such as this ham-handed post from the Daily Beast. On one hand, error is intrinsic to writing, and the fault you find in others today could be found in you tomorrow. On the other, we can't just let any blunder slip by unnoticed, escaping under the "There But For the Grace of God Go I..." clause.

     So I’m up at 5 a.m., too early to start working. Might as well browse online. As a change of pace, I slide over to the Daily Beast, the online remnant of Newsweek. Naming the site for the London tabloid in Evelyn Waugh’s comic novel “Scoop” surely seemed more clever when they first thought it up than now, when some slice of America must avoid it, assuming, with that name, it must be the house organ for Satan.
     I’m rewarded with “20 WORST AIRPORTS FOR THANKSGIVING TRAVEL.” A list! We readers love lists! It can be “15 Most Useless Facts to Waste Your Time Reading” and we’re there. Oh, No. 6, “Lists Like This One.” Yes indeed, spot on!
     Of course I want to know how Chicago fares after the Daily Beast analyzed its "reams of statistics" in order to name the worst airports to pass through, based on arrival and departure delays, both during the year and for Thanksgiving weekend.
     No. 1 was San Francisco (whew!), where a quarter of arrivals and departures are delayed on an average day, rising to 29 percent of departures delayed on Thanksgiving.
     I figured Chicago would be up there, and Midway is No. 2, though if you look closely, you see something odd: 20.2 percent of Midway arrivals and 30.7 percent of departures are delayed on average. But Thanksgiving 2012 stats show 18 percent of arrivals and departures are late. So it's better to fly at Thanksgiving than most times, which sort of undermines the whole point of the post.
     Newark, N.J., is third, with numbers that again suggest it's far easier to fly at Thanksgiving (27.6 percent arrivals delayed during the year versus 15 percent at the holiday; 25.3 percent departures delayed year-round; Thanksgiving drops to 14 percent).
     Nothing in the slide show—photos of waiting, frustrated travelers at various airports — addresses this incongruity. Do they read their own posts? O'Hare, at fourth, is the same: delayed departures during Thanksgiving are almost half average year-round delays, 14 versus 27.2 percent.
     Airport after airport, they're all like that. The headline should have been: "THANKSGIVING IS BEST TIME TO FLY." It's hard to say whether they just started with a concept — list the busiest, most-delayed airports at Thanksgiving — then didn't notice that the stats tell an even more incredible story: It's better to travel over the holidays, probably because travelers are scared off.
     I consider this more evidence we've grown so accustomed to complaining about air travel that it's become a reflex; we don't even think about what we're complaining about anymore. Jets are a modern marvel, and I wish travelers would stop bitching. You never see articles about people who live in refugee camps complaining about living under a tarp and lining up for potable water. They cope with it. But the media offers pampered airborne business folk and vacationers shaking their fists at their hard lot.
     Stop whining. Get to the airport two hours early and flying is usually a breeze. Expect to wait. Bring a book. Smile at the big, shuffling line for a security check that does nothing at all; it's almost like a religious ritual we do in honor of 9/11 ( that would be interesting. Instead of patting you down, the TSA should anoint your head with oil).
     Whatever happens, roll with it. I flew to Colorado with my older son in February to visit my folks. We didn't depart until 12 hours after our flight was scheduled to leave. It was still fun. The evening flight was overbooked, and they kept requesting volunteers to be bumped to the morning, something I'd never consider — inconvenient! But my son wondered, "Why not?" It helped that my mom had been carping about us arriving too late at night, and I realized being bumped would a) get us there the next morning, voiding mom's concern; b) reduce the invariable "Long's Day Journey into Night" span of the visit and c) put a pair of $400 vouchers in our pockets. Next thing I knew we were on a bus, bound for a nearby Holiday Inn. It was an adventure. Next morning, we used our meal vouchers to feast on a lavish Wolfgang Puck breakfast.
     We're going back to the airport to use those vouchers this Christmas Eve. If I have a 500-pound man in the seat in front of me and a pair of toddler twins with ear infections wailing in back, on a plane that is three hours late taking off, I will not feel ill-used. I'll have a good book, and if the plane lands wheels first, I'll consider myself lucky.


  1. Now that is what Thanksgiving is all about!

  2. That's funny. Most people would manipulate data to bolster their theory, not honestly report it and shoot the theory full of holes.


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