Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Week Option: Stay Ho-Ho-Home?

I need to stipulate that this is being written from Tucson, where I can look out the window as I type and see the green Sonoran desert roll out to the Rincon under sunny blue skies, where birdies and bunny rabbits make room for each other at the seed block like business travelers at a breakfast buffet ...

Ok, ok, I'll put a lid on it.

But lucky me (and my wife), we got to Tucson from the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport last week (with a connection through the absurdly named George Bush Houston "Intercontinental" Airport), at a time when the weather across the country was just fine, and the flights were running on time.

Wotta mess the air-travel system has become in the last few days, though. Lazy reporters on TV and in the papers keep telling us that "dozens of flights" were canceled. They get this useless information from some guy at the local airport who answers a phone number that's been on metro-desk call lists since the Carter Administration, and who really doesn't have a clue about the actual numbers, as he just works for the city.

So let's make that "several thousand" flights have been canceled since the weekend. If you want a real-time tally, go to (and click on airports, and then "airport scorecard" and enter the specific airport.)

If I weren't already where I wanted to be, I'd be considering staying home this holiday season rather than plunging into the air-travel system.

Right now, early on Monday, the biggest problems are in Seattle, where 537 of the 953 scheduled flights yesterday were canceled. And as of 6 a.m. Pacific time today, more than 200 flights have already been canceled at the cumbersomely named Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Today's a brief respite from snowy and icy weather in the Northwest (it returns tomorrow), so it's apparent that the large number of preemptive cancellations reflects tie-ups in the system -- as previous large numbers of cancellations in the Northeast and Northwest have put hundreds of aircraft out of their normal positions.

At the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport yesterday, 236 flights were canceled. At Kennedy, it was 161. At O'Hare, 265.

So the system is not in good shape to handle even the weaker holiday travel demand this year (especially considering that there are at least 10 percent fewer seats in the air compared with last year's year-end holiday).

Obviously, anyone flying needs to check ahead and make sure the flight is operating as scheduled.

Also, airlines have been playing musical chairs with their fleets, and if the equipment suddenly changes to reflect lower demand or just plain airline convenience, that aisle or exit-row seat you thought you had prudently booked in advance may not be available. So check and make a phone call if you feel you've been capriciously relegated to 28-B from 8-D.

Even last week, with things running somewhat smoothly, the Continental flight my wife and I boarded at the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport changed from a 767 to a 757. My wife's exit row seat disappeared and she ended up in a middle seat in a crappy row, you know, the one right in front of the exit rows.

And she's flown more than 50,000 miles this year on Continental, so elite status evidently didn't count for anything when they switched planes.


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