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Update: T+L Aviation Report Card 2002

Call it the new "normal." When American Airlines Flight 587 crashed shortly after takeoff from New York's JFK last November, the first order of business was to determine whether the crash was the result of a terrorist act. When evidence pointed to an accident, the relief was enormous, the grief of the victims' loved ones notwithstanding.

Fortunately, such catastrophes are still rare. Terrorism aside, flying remains the safest mode of transportation. (Arnold Barnett, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has calculated that a person would have to take one flight a day for 21,000 years before perishing in a commercial aviation accident.) Yet the new concerns raised by last September's attacks have resulted in great change. A new federal agency, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), has now taken over responsibility for aviation security. The Federal Aviation Administration, for its part, has been forced to rethink its mission. And although at press time flight volume had returned to about 90 percent of pre-9/11 levels, the major airlines were still facing a crisis: the industry could lose up to $5 billion this year.

What's the bottom line for travelers?With a nod to the three R's, T+L's first aviation report card is divided into the three S's—Security, Safety, and Service—and assesses key issues in each area. Like any good teacher, our aim is to note where progress has been made but also, and perhaps more important, to call for action where improvement is needed.

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