May it visit endless delays, blocked airplane toilets, and hostile customs officials on three groups of airline professionals.

First, on those who advertise and sell airplane tickets between Vancouver and San Francisco with confidently-predicted departure and arrival times. In my experience, for a variety of reasons, the planes fail to depart and arrive on schedule on time well over 50% of the time. This seems odd; it’s not OK to advertise a bottle of wine as containing 750ml when in fact it contains much less; but apparently it’s OK to advertise a flight as arriving at 9:18AM when you know that the chances of this happening are much less than 50%. The airline industry is accountability-free.

Second, on the United Airlines officials who book many more travelers through Dulles airport than they can actually process in any sane amount of time. I’ve been through twice in the last year and observed people weeping and otherwise freaking out when they miss flights because they have to line up endlessly to check in and then again to get through security. Clearly, United Airlines knows that it cannot process the number of passengers corresponding to the number of tickets it sells in any reasonable amount of time, but it continues to inflict abuse on its customers. If you are flying out of Dulles, you need to arrive two hours in advance of your departure time, or you’re taking a big chance. The airline industry is accountability-free.

Third, on the designers of Terminal 1 at Toronto’s Pearson airport. It is a brutal, ugly, soul-crushing piece of architecture. Its sin is simple: it is simply much, much, much, too big. If you need a hallway to be twenty feet wide to accomodate the traffic, it’s fifty feet wide. If the ceiling needs to be thirty feet high, it’s over a hundred. If a window needs to be ten feet tall, it’s forty. Its roof, both arched and curved, ought to be graceful but is ugly simply because its scale is so vast, making the scurrying humans beneath seem ant-like. It favours a clean fascist-white-everywhere aesthetic over the use of anything so bourgeois as colour. Outside too; looking down from your airplane window, it’s an awkward graceless monstrous white turd. On top of which, it’s exhausting and time-consuming to walk from wherever you are to wherever you’re going.

Why does the airline business hate people?


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: David Singer (Mar 30 2007, at 16:27)

It's not that the airline business actively HATES people -- it's that they would rather deal with cargo. So if they treat people as cargo, it's only natural.


From: Aitor (Apr 01 2007, at 10:02)

Pearson Airport looks totally oversized. As you say, people seem ant-like, which makes arriving at the airport such an strange experience. It always looks so empty and cold... The remarkable hostility of Canadian customs officials doesn't help make the arrival welcoming either...


From: John Minnihan (Mar 30 2007, at 16:43)

"it’s an awkward graceless monstrous white turd"

Now there's a description I love.


From: Iain D Broadfoot (Mar 30 2007, at 17:49)

> Why does the airline business hate people?

"... they have marketing research that goes to the people and says: “What do you want? Do you want cheaper or more expensive?” And of course people say cheaper. So they say, “You see, they want cheaper, so we’re going to give them cheaper airlines, cheaper, cheaper."


From: Jay Carlson (Mar 30 2007, at 23:45)

Somebody on flyertalk has in their profile:

"Proud member of the Self-Loading Cargo Society"

There are a fair number of routes to isolated places that exist primarily to serve freight. Put another way, the upper part of the plane is full of nice-to-have cargo that happens to be not very dense, freeing up weight down below.

Anybody who played Elite should be familiar with this....


From: M. David Peterson (Mar 31 2007, at 00:59)

>> This seems odd; it’s not OK to advertise a bottle of wine as containing 750ml when in fact it contains much less; <<

This is because the science of measurement is accurate enough to require that if the label says 750ml the contents of that bottle must be reasonably accurate, represented by the current base standard in regards to the state of the art for that area of scientific measurement.

Should we hold weatherman accountable if it rains when they called for sunshine?

On the flip-side of accuracy is error, and when humans are involved and/or other variables in which can not be reasonably relied upon for accuracy, the tables are turned.

Mixing these together: It has been determined by science that it is unreasonable for a human to react to the sound of starting gun of a 100 meter (or similar) race within a measurable range. If they do, the camera and/or sensors on the track will recognize that the runner "jumped the gun" and the race will start over.

On the flip-side, while its within reason to expect that the measuring devices will accurately record the time it took for each human to run the 100 meters from start to finish, it is not within reason to be able to determine ahead of time what the final results for the race will be. There are simply too many variables involved to make accurate predictions in this regard.

In other words, the science of measuring human reaction is accurate enough to determine whether or not an error in human judgment has been made during the first few milliseconds of a race, but it is not accurate enough to determine ahead of time how these same humans will perform during the race, and therefore what the final results of this race will be.

The first few flights of the day are almost certainly going to be on time. The rest? Well, that depends...

>> but apparently it’s OK to advertise a flight as arriving at 9:18AM when you know that the chances of this happening are much less than 50%. <<

This is because it is within reason to expect that the flight might be on time as well. There are too many variables involved: weather (local and/or national/international in which late arriving flights cause need for adjustment to the other flight schedule), air traffic, someone who arrives late and causes the plane in question to back away from the gate a fraction of second later, and as such, causes a domino effect that effects following flights to be given clearance to leave later than normal, etc...

Of course there is a quiet period in the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning that provides an opportunity for things to catch up, and therefore it is reasonable to assume that it's possible for the next days schedule to return to its normal schedule (e.g. the beginning of the race.) It doesn't always work out that way, but its within reason to expect that there's just as good a chance that it will be on time than it won't.

>> The airline industry is accountability-free. <<

I agree that they are held less accountable than other industries, and I definitely recognize that their are those airlines that take full advantage of the system en route to padding their own pockets. But to suggest that the airlines be held to the same level of accuracy as the wine industry and/or any other industry in which the science of measured precision is accurate and quantifiable is simply too much to ask.


From: John Cowan (Mar 31 2007, at 08:23)

I've never been in Toronto (except in Tanya Huff novels, where the city is an important secondary character, like San Francisco in Armistead Maupin), but in Montreal I find the customs officials amazingly non-hostile, much less hostile than those of my own country.

And as for human cargo, the railroads long ago decided to leave all that to non-profit agencies and quangos, which have at least some experience managing the critters. Coal doesn't care if you leave it on a side track for six days in order to expedite the routing of high-priority stuff.


From: Austin Ziegler (Mar 31 2007, at 08:31)

Oh, I don't know. YYZ Terminal 1 is pretty enough in the ticket-counter area. After security, however, I agree that it's just a little too much space for comfort. I went to San Francisco over March break and the space wasn't comfortable.


From: Norbert (Mar 31 2007, at 15:48)

Hmm - from my experience it seems airlines have become pretty good at filling their flying bottles to capacity - sometimes a few more people than they have seats for, sometimes a few less. Half-empty planes seem to have become pretty rare on the routes I fly.

Now, expecting the flying bottles to arrive on time, isn't that more like expecting the wine to taste good?


From: David Smith (Mar 31 2007, at 16:23)

"The first few flights of the day are almost certainly going to be on time..." Not so in areas with common ground fog - I've routinely had early morning departures from Anchorage, AK or Spokane, WA delayed while waiting for the sun to do its thing.

As for Tim's angst over United at Dulles, give BWI a try. My cunning plan is to take the shuttle to the Greenbelt Metro station (20 minutes, $2.40 last I looked, leaves every half hour) and then take the train (Green Line) wherever you're headed. Or drive - unless you arrive in the afternoon rush hour, both I-95 and the BW parkway are easier to take than the Dulles access road.

And when was the last time anyone had a good experience with United going anywhere?

I guess I'll retire someday and want cheap more than good, but for the time being I miss the Bad Old Days when air passengers were mostly adults on business who dressed up and behaved themselves.


From: Colin Sampaleanu (Mar 31 2007, at 16:57)

Aitor >> The remarkable hostility of Canadian customs officials doesn't help make the arrival welcoming either...

You must be doing something to get "special" treatment. I from Toronto to the States and back a couple of times a month, and the experience with customs/immigration is better than any other country I've been to. It usually takes a couple of minutes, and the official is quite courteous. Compare this a Heathrow or US immigration queue where the wait is half an hour sometimes... I say this as a Canadian citizen mind you; maybe non-Canadians have a different experience. But at least everybody gets to line up in the same queue.

As for Tim's comments on Toronto's Terminal 1, I couldn't agree more. Unbelievable how completely it lacks any feeling of soul or beauty. Quite tragic considering they spent $CAD 4 billion on it.


From: Bill de hOra (Mar 31 2007, at 18:12)

"The airline industry is accountability-free."

And as the software "tribe", we're not? Even though our civilization depends on software, we continue to write reams of wasteful, broken buggy code that dehumanizes and demoralises much of the time, while taking pride in saying things like "worse is better". We're amateurs in comparison, and arguably abusive ones at that.

"Why does the airline business hate people?" "

The airline business does it utmost to make sure you and I don't fall out of the sky, despite being squeezed into commodification. Passenger jets are a modern wonder, perhaps *the* wonder of our age.


From: M. T. MacPhee (Apr 01 2007, at 03:07)

re: the inhuman scale and ugliness of YYZ Terminal 1

This is the logical result of the Airport Improvement Fee. It collects so much money that every airport is constantly under construction, and ever larger (how else can they spend it all?).


From: Aitor (Apr 01 2007, at 10:06)


Maybe "hostile" is a too strong word, but I've never found them very welcoming, to be honest. I've flown into Toronto and Montreal a number of times and the treatment I've received has always been pretty consistent. I'm not Canadian (I'm an EU citizen) and that might have to do with it, but I'd really appreciate if they'd be a bit friendlier. They're probably just doing their job, but I love Canada (I'm actually thinking of moving there) and it upsets me that they might be giving a wrong impression to visitors.

My US/UK experience hasn't been much better, mind you. As you say, at least the Canadian border wait times are much shorter than in say, Heathrow, which is pretty bad no matter how you look at it.


From: Derek K. Miller (Apr 01 2007, at 20:23)

Years ago I heard the old YYZ Terminal 2 described, quite accurately, as "an elevator shaft on its side."

That said, at least it's possible for you to get to Washington DC without having to take a stagecoach for several weeks. Like others, I think air travel is a bit of a miracle (especially to place like Australia and Africa), and I'll put up with the occasional discomfort:


From: Chris (Apr 02 2007, at 05:51)

If you have to fly into the bay area, try going to SJC instead - much less chance of a delay.

My understanding is that the short flights up & down the coast need to have a landing slot assigned at SFO before they can even take off, so when they close one runway because of the fog, you end up sitting for a while.


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