It has become a cliché in the aviation industry to say there's no silver bullet for reducing delays—especially in a system that will have to handle 1 billion passengers by 2010 (up from an estimated 682.4 million this year). There is no lack of ideas, however: using bigger planes to reduce the number of flights; allowing planes to fly physically closer together; making better use of Global Positioning System technology, so pilots can navigate the skies more independently; encouraging airlines to keep more spare planes in reserve; even privatizing the air traffic control system, as in Canada. Yet each of these proposals could take several (or more) years to be realized, given the complexities of federal regulations, never mind public concerns about both convenience and safety. As the DOT's Mead told Congress this spring: "For solutions to improve capacity, we can expect only limited, or no, bottom-line relief over the next few years." And so changes in scheduling practices are our best hope for the immediate future.
As for the next move from Washington, at least good old-fashioned self-interest is at work. "The people who will be passing legislation are furious, because they have to fly every week," observes one congressional staffer. In the meantime, it's probably better not to ask how someone's flight was this summer. Just in case.
THE 8 WORST AIRPORTS
According to the FAA, the following eight airports accounted for the bulk of delays in the U.S. from October 2000 through March 2001. Figures represent the number of delayed flights per 1,000. When possible, we've listed alternate regional airports with fewer delays.
1. New York La Guardia 155.9
Alternatives: Westchester County (White Plains), Stewart International (New Windsor, N.Y.), MacArthur (Islip, N.Y.)
2. Newark 81.2
Alternatives: Atlantic City International, Stewart International (New Windsor, N.Y.), Lehigh Valley International (Allentown, Pa.)
3. Chicago O'Hare 63.3
Alternatives: Chicago Midway, General Mitchell International (Milwaukee, Wis.), Greater Rockford
4. San Francisco 56.8
Alternatives: Oakland International, San Jose International
5. Boston Logan 47.5
Alternatives: Worcester Regional
6. Philadelphia 44.5
Alternatives: Atlantic City International, Lehigh Valley International (Allentown, Pa.)
7. New York JFK 38.8
Alternatives: Westchester County (White Plains), Stewart International (New Windsor, N.Y.)
8. Atlanta Hartsfield 30.9
Alternatives: None less than a three-hour drive
WHY FLIGHTS ARE LATE
The FAA cites the following reasons for flight delays in 2000. "Volume" is FAA-speak for overscheduling; "runway" means a runway was unavailable because of maintenance or construction.