10/04/2007 02:19 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fasten Belts for 8 Hours on Tarmac

U.S. President George W. Bush said last week, "We've got a problem. We understand there's a problem. And we're going to address the problem.''

That sounded promising. It's never too late to pull yourself together, and there's no shortage of problems for Bush to address: health care, which is ruining the economy; the Iraq war, which is ruining the Middle East; global warming, which is ruining the planet.

With his pronouncement, Bush set his sights on a slightly less-urgent priority -- flight delays, which, while bothersome, seldom ruin more than your day. Yet they seem perfectly suited to Bush's attention. Like Mussolini and Italy's trains, Bush is vowing to get U.S. airlines to run on time.

What brought about this uncharacteristic burst of regulatory fervor? It may be that Bush, whose top concern is terrorism, heard that when it comes to taking hostages on airplanes, by far the worst evildoers are the airlines themselves.

According to Department of Transportation figures, 50,000 flights had tarmac delays of at least one hour during the first seven months of 2007. Passengers on 44 of those flights endured delays of at least five hours. In December, 67 American Airlines planes sat on runways for three hours or more. With 27 percent of all flights delayed or canceled, this is the worst performance since the federal government began keeping track in 1995.

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