Monday, August 10, 2009

When Government Bureaucracy Meets Common Sense

From the Star Tribune, troubling article about a Continental Airlines flight, being operated by Express Jet, trying to get from Houston to the Twin Cities. The big thunderstorms in town Saturday night diverted the plane to Rochester, where we pick up the story:

The plane, which left Houston about 9:30 p.m. Friday, arrived in Rochester about midnight, and passengers weren't allowed to leave the plane until 6 a.m. Saturday.

The Continental Airlines flight Friday night from Houston to the Twin Cities was left parked at the Rochester airport for six hours, complete with crying babies and the aroma of over-used toilets and no way for passengers to leave.
Welcome to Minnesota. We like it here.

OK, this isn't exactly type of welcome the tourism board would have preferred. Unless imprisoning travelers in the equivalent of a communal Satellite toilet for 6 hours is a more aggressive way to convince people that they should be Happy to Pay for a Better Minnesota. But, as of yet no Democrats have come forward to blame this on Gov. Pawlenty's budget cuts.

Instead, a more common cause has been identified for keeping these poor people trapped for 6 hours:

. . . . letting the passengers into the Rochester airport was not possible, ExpressJet said, because they would have to go through security screening again, and the screeners had gone home for the day.

ExpressJet spokeswoman Kristy Nicholas said the passengers could have entered the terminal only "if we had resources to allow the customers to deplane safely and were able to comply with federal regulations." Nicholas added that "upon arrival of TSA [security personnel] ... at approximately 6 a.m. Central, the customers were allowed to deplane the aircraft."

Well, I know I feel safer.

Listen up all you al Queda operatives lurking inside small regional airports after midnight in the event that unscheduled flights are routed there due to inclement weather, then waiting for the passengers to deplane to take bathroom breaks in the airport and then slipping in unnoticed among them as they get back on, and then keeping a low profile on the plane until it takes off and then committing heinous acts of terrorism - you've been foiled again! Defeated by the wisdom and foresight of the United States government.

Or, alternately, this incident was a huge clusterfarg caused by inflexible federal safety regulations, a one-size-fits-all approach meant to cover every situation experienced by all 28,000 flights (on average) each and every day in the US. In the interest of safety, they require all deplaning passengers to be rescreened every time. They just never counted on the Rochester, Minnesota TSA employees working bankers' hours.

If only the scientists of America had developed a time machine by now. Then, I swear I'd go back to shortly after 9/11 and visit the town hall meetings Congresspersons were holding regarding the Homeland Security Act. During the Q&A section, I'd raise objections to the unintended consequences of this specific provision, stating that it has the real possibility of needlessly causing great suffering and harm to air passengers and that we should think again before blundering down this path.

At which point it would be indignantly pointed out that there is NOTHING in this bill about making air passengers wait for 6 hours on the tarmac while waiting for security. Then I would be shouted down as a plant from Big Aviation, called un-American and a Nazi just out to hurt our precious President, reported as fishy to, and finally cold-cocked by a union goon in the parking lot.

Maybe it's a good thing that time machine is still on the drawing board.

Instead, we'll just have to live with the government's reaction to this problem:

I think keeping people on the airplane from about midnight to roughly 6 in the morning, that wouldn't sit well with me either," [Rochester airport manager Steven Leqve] said. "It's an unfortunate thing. I wish it hadn't happened."
Gee thanks pal.

If the local bureacrats are unresponsive, at least we have public servants in the US House of Representatives in our corner. People who understand the problems of the average commerical air traveller.
House Democratic leaders neatly snuck into the 2010 defense appropriations bill an extra $132 million to pay for two extra C-37B private jets to haul congressmen around the country. As Capitol Hill's Roll Call first reported, the Air Force had requested one such jet -- for the general use of government officials and military brass.

But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the spending spree didn't stop there. House Democrats authorized the purchase of three C-37B jets, plus another Boeing 737. Added to separate Obama administration and Pentagon requests, the total number of elite planes requested in the current budget stands at eight, for a total defense appropriation of $550 million.
OK, we're screwed. But on the bright side, this is only convenience during air travel we're talking about. It's not like these people are in charge of something life and death like your health care.

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