Monday, April 06, 2009
The Clueless Lecture the Shoeless
Standing there in the airport without your shoes, muttering about those long delays you face today with the lousy weather in the East, I am sure you can't wait to be told the results of the annual Airline Quality Rating issued by two professors at Wichita State University and St. Louis University.
"Airline performance improves for first time in five years," they proclaim. That means delays are down slightly, and not as many complaints are accumulating as in the last five miserable years.
The reason for this, of course, is that far fewer people are now flying. "We know the system performs better when it's less stressed by high passenger volume," says one of the authors, Dean Headley, an associate professor of marketing at Wichita State.
Did I hear one of you shoeless people mutter "No shit, Sherlock?" People, please, no inappropriate comments or jokes (as that irritating announcement keeps warning you in Houston). Just put your possessions on the belt and move along with your boarding pass in hand.
For many years, every year around this time, the media has given a lot of attention to the annual release of this Airline Quality Rating, which evaluates airline performance using mundane data that have been available for months to anyone who cares to look at the monthly reports on the Bureau of Transportation Statistics Web site.
I totally agree with the irrepressible Mike Boyd on this one. In effect, he says, the annual report, which is issued by professors at "a couple of Midwestern universities," is "just a week-late April Fool's joke on the gullible reporters trying to fill that three-minute spot on the 6 p.m. news." Boyd adds, "It's astounding how much of the media gets hornswaggled into believing that this is new, breakthrough data, when it's essentially been out for months."
I agree. It's also data that the numbers-challenged media love to make a big deal out of -- for example, they love the most minute changes in the largely irrelevant statistics on overbooking.
I am always amused by how the authors of the report behave as if they're the Golden Globes. For their press conference, they rent a room in the National Press Club in Washington, a certified hot-air-balloon-and-other-gasbags landing site, and send out breathless press releases informing reporters of the special numbers to call to get a copy of the report. Oooooh. A special number!
It reminds me of the annual report ranking airports for their availability of "healthy" food in their terminal concessions, put out by something called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine -- which as I noted some years ago is actually an anti-meat advocacy group with affiliations with PETA. The media used to reverently approach that report annually, till I finally shamed them into largely ignoring it for the hot air that it is.