Photo credit: Jake McGuire
We are now in the full throes of the summer travel season, and the airports are jammed. I use the word "throes" advisedly. The dictionary defines "throes" as "intense or violent pain or struggle," and that's exactly the phrase to describe our current airport conditions.
The check-in counters are jammed, the corridors a mass of crowds, the security lines are long and seemingly endless, and the wait to pass through T.S.A. inspections is often two or three hours. Thousands of would-be passengers are currently missing their departures because they hadn't decided to be at the airport at least three or four hours in advance.
How did this situation come about? Why is our air traffic overwhelmed by an unprecedented number of fliers? It came about because Congress has resolved, over the past 50 years, to appropriate nothing of real consequence to our railroad system. On a simple, seventy-minute flight between New York City and Buffalo, we have no alternative but to travel by air. On scores of other short distance flights, we are--realistically--the captives of the airlines.
Our Amtrak is so starved for funds, so slow and episodic, that no intelligent person would ever normally consider taking a train between destinations three hundred miles-or-so apart. Unlike the nations of Europe, where people take a train rather than crowd into an airport, we have become a country of unavoidable air transportation.
If we were to add a couple of billion dollars to the annual appropriation for Amtrak, then that train system could upgrade the rails on which it runs to make feasible a trip by train between Los Angeles and San Francisco, between Chicago and St. Louis, between Miami and Jacksonville, between Dallas and Houston. And millions of travelers could avoid the airports and travel by train.
I have a businessman friend who lives in Barcelona. When he needs to travel to Madrid (380 miles away), he goes by high-speed train in two and a half hours. He would not think of traveling by air. And he makes the trip comfortably--and fast.
The main reason why we, as travelers, are suffering in overcrowded airports is because of ideological, anti-mass-transit beliefs on the part of one major party in Congress--ideology divorced from experience and reason.
To avoid over-crowded airports and three-hour lines, a decent funding of Amtrak would go a long way. On a more immediate basis, a law prohibiting the airlines from charging for checked luggage during the summer high season, would create a faster solution. By permitting passengers to check their luggage without charge, we would immediately see an end to those spectacles of people lugging large suitcases and duffel bags onto planes, delaying the inspection process and the later fight for space in the overhead racks.
In 2015, the airlines enjoyed 26 billion dollars of profit after tax. Surely, it is asking very little for them to immediately give up, for just three short summer months, those luggage charges that do so much to delay the TSA's important work.
Now is the time to write your representatives in Congress, asking for a sensible solution to the hardships currently experienced by so many air passengers at our airports--airports bursting at the seams.