Why You're Spending More Time in Airports

Broadcast June 8, 2001

Have you ever got to an airport to discover your flight's been delayed an hour or two, or more? Or its been cancelled altogether? Or after your plane leaves the gate, you spend the next hour on the runway waiting for it to take off? And as a result, you miss your connecting flight, and you don t get to the wedding or a funeral or meeting you had to get to?

Join the crowd. America's entire air traffic system is overwhelmed, failing to keep up with growing demand for air travel.

So now the Federal Aviation Administration comes up with a new 10-year plan, featuring more runways, bigger airports, and better technology. Fine. But the FAA has been promising these things for years, and they haven't happened. Since 1978 only one major new airport in America. In the last decade only a handful of new runways. And the last time the FAA tried a major overhaul of air-traffic technology it wasted billions of dollars on a system that didn't work.

The FAA's new plan doesn't deal with the core problem -- the crush that occurs when a lot of people are trying to fly from one city to another at popular flying times -- in the morning, late afternoons and evenings, on Fridays and Sunday nights, especially during the summer. At these peak times, airlines schedule a huge number of departures and arrivals. But all these planes can't possibly land and takeoff because there isn't nearly enough room at airports for all of them. The result is delays and cancellations.

The simplest solution is for airports to charge airlines more money for taking off and landing during these peak hours -- so the airlines have an incentive to shift more flights to off-peak hours. And also to use fewer and larger planes each carrying more passengers.

Peak-load pricing isn't a radical idea. Utilities do it. Restaurants do it when they have early-bird specials. I mean, it makes sense. Yes, it may mean you'll have to pay a little more for your ticket if you want to travel at the most popular times. But what you get in return is fewer delays and cancellations. So you save on time. And if you don t have to travel during peak hours, your ticket will be cheaper.

So will this idea fly? One airport -- LaGuardia, in New York, is considering it. But airlines don't want peak-load pricing because they want to sell as many tickets as they possibly can even if planes are late. The small-plane lobby hates the idea. And the FAA is a big bureaucracy. So … have a good summer.

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