Over the river and above the woods to Grandmother's house we go -- for Thanksgiving! (Or at least that's how it will be for the 27 million Americans who are flying to our turkey feasts.) And just think, the pilgrims gave thanks just for food. But we millennium gatherers take sustenance for granted. We want all the world can offer. We want turducken, gourmet cranberry sauce and scrumptious pumpkin pie. And what would we really give thanks for? How about a holiday with clear, easy flying skies?
Our President, aside from his annual pardoning of the turkey on the White House lawn, announced a late addition to the US holiday travel ritual: A plan to ease holiday air traffic congestion. His answer: the holiday express lane in the sky. The proposal involves opening up military airspace to commercial airplanes for the five days (from Wednesday to Sunday) that are some of the busiest of the year. In theory this should reduce some travel delays; it's a lot like adding another lane on a busy highway enabling more traffic to get through. This is expected to be especially helpful along the eastern seaboard where limited air ways are an issue.
But what it doesn't solve is the problem that there is too much air traffic for the existing FAA air traffic system to process or the fact that scheduled flight takeoffs per hour exceed the number that airports can handle. (This is chronic at many of the country's busiest airports.) Most airports can't physically handle more than 45 take-offs an hour, and that's assuming perfect weather conditions. Busy airports regularly have schedules that surpass their capacity. Airport officials say it's the airlines' fault for over-scheduling. This explains the daily delays for instance at the New York Metro airports where too much tarmac time has become a regular part of the flying routine, and which spillover to cause delays across the country.
While I am truly grateful for this Presidential grace of the holiday express lane, I must confess, I'm feeling a twinge of greed. Why only a few days a year? I want airlines and an air traffic system that work together in tandem like mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey and stuffing... all year. Is that too much to ask?
Let us just say, for the sake of this post, that the so-called holiday express lane does work to alleviate many of the problems of air traffic delays. Then what? Can we get a permanent expansion of commercial air space?
I'll be watching this week - to see just how brutal delays are. My spotters will be posted in ten of the nation's busiest airports and we'll be reporting hourly on The Window Seat with what's happening at airports around the country Tuesday and Wednesday.
Like I always say, hope for the best but plan for the worst. I'd pack those leftovers up (remember to leave the gravy behind) because chances are you're still going to be delayed somewhere along the way this Thanksgiving. But don't despair. Christmas is around the corner and now you know what to ask for from Santa.