We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore!
August 16, 2007 9:19 AM   Subscribe

I now know what to do in case I ever got stuck on an airplane that's not going anywhere- organize and stage a revolt, like the passengers of Continental flight 1669.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (74 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I went into the article ready to be angry at impatient passengers, which lasted all of five seconds, once they mentioned that the passengers had been left on board for five hours.

All told, it sounds like they handled it a lot better than I would have under the same circumstances.
posted by Brak at 9:27 AM on August 16, 2007

Its stories like these that make me never want to fly again. Who's up for a road trip?
posted by fallenposters at 9:30 AM on August 16, 2007

Rude airline and airport employees at Newark? Well, I never!
posted by chillmost at 9:32 AM on August 16, 2007

I went into the article ready to be angry at impatient passengers, which lasted all of five seconds, once they mentioned that the passengers had been left on board for five hours.

Is this really the first time you've heard of something like this happening?
posted by delmoi at 9:33 AM on August 16, 2007

Let's roll!
posted by Armitage Shanks at 9:33 AM on August 16, 2007 [12 favorites]

Reminds me of the New York train passengers in 1980 who refused to leave after having been shuffled from one failing train to another (scroll partway down).
posted by enn at 9:33 AM on August 16, 2007

Good for them. The airline industry has a stranglehold on travel and many times it seems like the passenger is completely powerless to change anything. If it takes the spectre of riot, albeit non-violent as it should be, to elicit a timely response - all the better. Sometimes we forget the power of solidarity.

The flight attendant who threatened arrest and the airline employees without a shred of compassion ought to be shown the door. We're people, not just tickets.
posted by NationalKato at 9:38 AM on August 16, 2007 [4 favorites]

Hey, you failed to mention this was a flight from Caracas. I can tell you from my experience here that trapping Venezuelans in a closed space for hours will inevitably produce a crowd of people "clapping in rhythm and drumming." I've seen it happen here a million times.
posted by micayetoca at 9:38 AM on August 16, 2007 [6 favorites]

Also, they shouldn't have been let off the plane, because Hugo Chavez is a dictator who kills his own people.
posted by anthill at 9:40 AM on August 16, 2007

Sir, the passengers are revolting!

I am blessed with infinite patience for this kind of thing. I'd have probably slept through the whole thing or have been pissed with the people making the commotion.

I would also probably complain about it later so that I could score some perks. This is the kind of man I am.
posted by ColdChef at 9:46 AM on August 16, 2007

So, if you pop the emergency slide and passengers start sliding to freedom, do you get taken to Guantanamo, or just shot?
posted by uncleozzy at 9:49 AM on August 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

No mention of the poop plane? (Also Continental, FWIW.)
posted by designbot at 9:57 AM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've never encountered this problem, but I know others who have. What's causing these problems?
posted by zennie at 9:57 AM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

"In a statement, Continental said...the waiting area had 'chips and pretzels and water,' the airline said, adding: 'Assistance was provided to customers with special needs, including a sandwich for a diabetic customer and wheelchairs for everyone who needed one.'"

Well then -- how generous of you, Continental!
posted by ericb at 10:05 AM on August 16, 2007

"“We did not have water, food, toilet paper” on the plane, the letter said. “The toilets were clogged and completely unsanitary. Moreover, there were a number of children and older and special-needs passengers, including a diabetic and a pregnant woman, who desperately needed attention.”"

I am a bit skeptical about this, and the latter half sounds like attention whoring. "OMG a pregnant woman! She desperately needed attention!"

So now we'll see another article about some "passengers bill of rights" and like all of the ones before it, it will go nowhere and people will continue to fly as they have done.

This isn't the first time this kind of story has popped up and it certainly won't be the last. Although nowadays people can whine about it on the internet. I personally dealt with a World Airways DC-10 in Seattle many years ago (when World was attempting to run scheduled passenger service) that had a mechanical failure and was stuck at our gate for 6 hours. This particular flight was already 3 hours late. (World owned a bunch of beat up DC-10s that would break down all the time)
What happened?
Nothing. Not a goddamned thing. People used the toilets as normal and we only needed to service them once.
The World Airways crew explained the situation and life went on. It was an international flight and as in this case, they didn't just let people wander into the terminal. the 250+ passengers were understandably frustrated but didn't feel the need to break out into tribal drumming or screaming for lawyers...or calling the NY Times.
I dunno. Just seems like a lot of dramatic whining to me. Maybe I'm more willing to just say "Eh, life happens" in such a situation.
posted by drstein at 10:06 AM on August 16, 2007

Delta Flight 6499 | June 25 2007, seven hours on the tarmac - video.
posted by ericb at 10:07 AM on August 16, 2007

drstein, you are a CEOs wet dream.
posted by NationalKato at 10:09 AM on August 16, 2007

“At a time when airline delays have reached historic highs, can anyone guarantee that any commercial flight, no matter how short the intended itinerary, won't turn into a multi-hour misadventure?

No, frankly, they can't, and it's only getting worse. According to Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics, just 73.58 percent of U.S. flights operated on time during the first five months of the year, the worst showing since the government began keeping records in 1995. The average length of delay is now 51 minutes, up five minutes from a year ago.

Actually, the average is probably even higher because of the way DOT tallies on-time statistics. If a delayed flight is subsequently canceled, it's counted as a canceled flight, not a delayed one. That sounds logical, but try asking someone who has had a delayed flight canceled if they're suddenly no longer delayed. On second thought, you probably better not.

Meanwhile, DOT statistics don't differentiate between situations where passengers are delayed while they're in the terminal and those in which they're stranded on the tarmac. And although ultra-long runway waits constitute a small percentage of the overall delay statistics, recent news accounts paint an equally depressing picture:

On June 19, passengers in San Francisco were stuck on the ground on Cathay Pacific Flight CX873 for seven hours. The flight was subsequently canceled.

On June 21, Comair Flight 5637, scheduled to fly from New York to Detroit, sat on the tarmac at JFK for four hours. The flight was subsequently canceled.

On June 25, Delta Flight 6499 left the gate at JFK bound for Dallas. It finally took off seven hours later. (The ordeal, by the way, lives on in abbreviated infamy through the miracle of YouTube. The clip is only seven minutes long, although the soundtrack and subtitles are a nice touch.)

Unfortunately, such incidents will probably occur with increasing frequency. Chalk it up to summer thunderstorms, airline mismanagement or an antiquated air-traffic-control system (OK, all of the above), but more and longer runway delays are all but certain as the summer wears on. And although I hesitate to use terms like ‘hostage situation’ and ‘false imprisonment,’ I can understand why many people do.”*
posted by ericb at 10:11 AM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I applaud their actions loudly. Six of the most uncomfortable and infuriating hours of my life were wasted on the tarmac at LaGuardia after a flight that only took 2 hours. Mothers and kids were freaking out. There was no milk or juice left and for some of the older people or sick, it must have been pure hell. Why is it we give up our human rights when we board a plane or go through customs??
posted by Skygazer at 10:11 AM on August 16, 2007

Related, via AskMe.
posted by cortex at 10:12 AM on August 16, 2007

TVs above the baggage claim carousels were looping a lobbyist's commercial bemoaning private jets as the source of much of the delays. They are apparently given priority taxi clearance in most commercial airports.

The airlines have been trying to make general aviation a scapegoat (ooo fatcatcorporatejets!), when in fact the airlines over-schedule (=profit) to the point that the slightest weather delay has huge ramifications throughout their hub-and-spoke systems. Regarding priority taxi clearance for small planes, I find this difficult to believe.

It is kind of funny how much of the advertising at National Airport (DCA) is pure lobbying. Living in DC, we also get undesired phone calls of this nature, as if we actually had some power to modify government policy.
posted by exogenous at 10:13 AM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) have introduced a passenger bill of rights similar to one proposed by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). Both would require that airlines provide adequate food, water and restrooms for passengers. They also would give passengers the right to get off the plane if they are stuck on a closed aircraft that has been sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours. Mr. Thompson's bill would require airlines to provide passengers with timely information about what's going on. The Boxer-Snowe bill would require air carriers to publicly post on their Web sites their chronically late flights. Both bills wisely avoid imposing financial penalties on the airline industry, which would be the legislative equivalent of pushing a drowning man underwater."*
posted by ericb at 10:15 AM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not I, drstein. I'm going to take the train more. It's slow, and small delays are to be expected, but the seats are comfy and you can often find an open window.
posted by zennie at 10:16 AM on August 16, 2007

Oh and I learned my lesson. Any trip less than 500 miles, and I will seriously give consideration to taking a train. It's worth it not to be held hostage.
posted by Skygazer at 10:16 AM on August 16, 2007

Kind of what micayetoca said. I have the sinking feeling that a planeload of American passengers would have just sat in place, muttering darkly to themselves...then sued later.
posted by klarck at 10:16 AM on August 16, 2007

That we have reached this point is absurd. The entire air travel industry is insane and needs to be entirely overhauled.

There is no way that they should be able to legally detain people in their planes, are airports not secure enough to offload passengers who have been stranded? And if not, what the fuck has been the point of all the money we have been dumping into airport security?

And the whole 'against the wall' thing when they were finally offloaded? I hear shit like that and my mind immediately goes to 'So you are going to treat me like a criminal? Let me show you how a criminal acts...'

So it's probably a good thing I wasn't involved.
posted by quin at 10:16 AM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Off topic: Can you think of any business that treats their customers with more sustained contempt than the airlines? Even professional sports teams act better, albeit not much better.
posted by mojohand at 10:27 AM on August 16, 2007

So, given the current state of the law, at what point does this become false imprisonment? Obviously you can't tolerate ZOMG LET ME OFF THIS AEROPLANE for no reason at any time, so some detainment must me allowed, but neither should people be locked in for hours.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:27 AM on August 16, 2007

I've spent hours sitting in planes (traveling for work) for no apparent reason. I've had enough. My passport is expiring this month. I haven't bothered to renew. When work says I have to travel, I'm not going to be able to. It's not like I have any sort of career to derail so there's no downside.
posted by tommasz at 10:28 AM on August 16, 2007

Newark is a mess. I was on a flight (also Continental) from Toronto last year and Newark wouldn't give us a landing slot. We did 3 or 4 laps of a holding pattern before the pilot came on the horn and told us Newark still wouldn't slot us in and we were out of fuel. We had to land at Stewart to refuel and waited on the tarmac there about 2 hours. When we finally got up again and got permission to land at Newark, we had a last-second aborted landing (about 50 feet off the ground, plane goes nose-up and full throttle). After doing a crazy lap over Newark the pilot told us there had been another plane sitting on our assigned runway.
posted by rocket88 at 10:30 AM on August 16, 2007

I love flying. I really do. The only bad experience I've ever had was a short flight I took on ATA. I (and several others) had to listen to this guy complain endlessly about how ATA misplaced (not lost) his bags.

I was in Phoenix, scheduled to leave on a Sunday afternoon. For reasons I never cared enough to find out about, the flight eventually got cancelled. I called the airline, instead of messing about the gate agents who were giving passengers the run-around, and they put me on a partner carrier's flight about 2.5 hours later.

In this type of situation, I think I'd join in the revolt. But in the current state (of fear) we live in, I'd seriously wonder about the potential for meeting some fine employees of the DHS, or FBI, or whatever. As evidenced by the behavior of the authorities here, no one can take any sort of contrary behavior lightly anymore.
posted by ninjew at 10:34 AM on August 16, 2007

I spent 5 hours waiting in a full plane in Dallas. What kept us on the ground? The lack of a signature on some form. The person responsible for providing that signature was not at work that day (!). We had to wait for them to find him while we sat on the tarmac watching the hours roll by.

I'll be taking the train thank you.
posted by djseafood at 10:36 AM on August 16, 2007

I'm supposed to be on a plane right now.

When I found out that my flight was delayed, that there was no chance of me making my connection, and that the only flight they could find for me would get me to my destination four hours later -- oh, and that me, my husband, and our two young children would each be sitting in a different row -- I gave up and came home.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:38 AM on August 16, 2007

this happened to me, Christmas 2004 at CVG. We landed successfully, but then we weren't off loaded. We sat for over five hours on the tarmac, waiting for........ they wouldn't tell us. It was almost surreal. The attendants and the crew did everything to dissemble the reasons for our delay. After hour two they ran out of snacks and after hour four the toilets became clogged and filthy. All this after a six hour flight.

Allegedly (according to one steward) there was a miscommunication over which gate we were supposed to go to. I'm not sure why, or what sort of human error occurred, as no one else from the airline ever told the passengers (or apologized) what had happened.

The airlines need to be nationalized, comrades. And then reorganized and then, maybe, put back out on the free market.
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:43 AM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

a train will take a few days instead of a few hours

I kind of like the idea of that, slowing life down......
posted by djseafood at 10:43 AM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

The airlines have been trying to make general aviation a scapegoat (ooo fatcatcorporatejets!), when in fact the airlines over-schedule (=profit) to the point that the slightest weather delay has huge ramifications throughout their hub-and-spoke systems.

Oh, it's more than that.

1) Airlines fly RJs now. They're flying vastly more planes, with vastly less capacity. Over *half* of ORD's traffic is 50 seat or smaller regional jets, they carry less than 20% of the passengers.

2) Airlines have dramatically cut onboard services in coach and first. Those who can afford it don't pay extra for less service, they fly corporate jets.

Almost *all* of the country's delays happen because of these airports -- JFK, LGA, EWR, ATL, ORD. They choke, because too many planes try to land, something happens to restrict landings, and everything backs up.

There are parts of the country where en-route delays happen. The northeast is the worst -- but the main reason the Northeast chokes is because of all the New York Traffic -- caused by the Regional Jets.

Meanwhile, the guys with money who would be flying first don't want the delays caused by the regional jets, the lack of customer services caused by staffing cuts, and the lack of amenities in the name of cost cutting. So they've taken their $1000-$10,000 per flight tickets and gone to General Aviation, where they get more comfortable planes, and less hassle.

Add in the TSA nightmare. If you can afford to fly GA, you do -- because flying commercial *SUCKS*.

Yes, we need to fix the ATC system. But the simplest way to unclog an airport is to fly less aircraft into it. The simplest way to fix that? Change the landing fees, and make airlines pay for flying RJs 8 times a day when they can fly MD-80s three time a day.

The airlines say we want more frequency. It's probably true, but what we *get* is delays. I'd rather have five STL-ORD flights a day that I could count on, rather than the 11 a day that are always delayed by some random factor.

Cut ORD to 70 landings an hour, and the number of delays would plummet.
posted by eriko at 10:44 AM on August 16, 2007 [8 favorites]

I thought federal rules prohibited foreign passengers from just getting off planes like they wanted to. It's ugly seeing what happens when government bureaucracy and corporate incompetence collide. Sort of like Katamari Damacy from hell.
posted by chlorus at 10:44 AM on August 16, 2007

Moreover, there were a number of children and older and special-needs passengers,

Children and older? Children and elderly, yes that's better.

"I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you." -Rumack

"Shanna, they bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash. " -Kirkpatrick
posted by Viomeda at 10:46 AM on August 16, 2007

Anything less than 500-600 miles, I'll just drive. When you add up time spent getting to the airport, parking, hauling luggage, (remember, 2 hours before your flight time due to gate security) waiting at the gate/on the runway, it doesn't add up at all.

I live in Austin. My daughter recently flew to Los Angeles with her mother. The only reasonably-priced flight flew out of Dallas. With a stopover in -- you guessed it -- Austin. They saved $300.00 on the price of 2 tickets by driving to Dallas, and being flown back home before going to LA. To have just boarded the plane in Austin would have made it a "direct flight." WTF, AIRLINES?
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:49 AM on August 16, 2007

What's causing these problems?

What a silly analysis. "Most of the delayed airports are in Illinois." Hint: Guess where those planes are coming from? If 75% of your traffic comes from or goes to O'Hare, you're going to see tons of delays.

Note how he references "taxi time." Do you know why taxi times are long? Because people are stuck on the tarmac, waiting through ORD ground stops.
posted by eriko at 10:51 AM on August 16, 2007

I kind of like the idea of that, slowing life down......

I like the idea, too. Unfortunately, I can't get an extra two weeks of paid vacation just by telling my boss that I prefer to take the train. "Just don't fly" is not a panacea, and people won't Just Not Fly in the face of a true need to get somewhere unless/until things get much, much worse or otherwise change radically.
posted by cortex at 10:57 AM on August 16, 2007

Was in Reagan airport a few months ago

You mean National Airport.
posted by inigo2 at 11:03 AM on August 16, 2007 [14 favorites]

Notwithstanding the insanity of the customs meltdown at LAX this past week, I avoid flying domestically, and if I'm heading abroad, I never connect to in the US - or fly US-based carriers - if I can avoid it. I'm moving to Latvia in two weeks and I'm taking a less convenient, more expensive routing on three different airlines, because I don't want to mess around with connecting at ORD or JFK on my way to Europe, and I don't want to be expected to pay $5 for a $2 can of beer that should be free, given that I've paid hundreds of dollars for my flight.

The EU has a system of compensation for delays that applies to all airlines, even budget and charter carriers, and it's been in place for a few years now. Link.
posted by mdonley at 11:10 AM on August 16, 2007

Is this really the first time you've heard of something like this happening?

I'm not surprised, but yeah, I didn't realize delays on the tarmac were coming to that.

Delays in the flight process are unfortunate (and yeah, there's an entire debate around the vagaries of them being unnecessary). Being forced to stay in a plane going nowhere for 5+ hours at a time is simply unacceptable. I'm generally a patient person when it comes to circumstantial inconveniences, but I have no tolerance for that level of buffoonery.
posted by Brak at 11:10 AM on August 16, 2007

I never connect to in the US
posted by mdonley at 11:12 AM on August 16, 2007

i think, at about hour 4, i'd just claim to have a bomb in my ass, triggered by 4 and a half hours of waiting on a tarmac.
posted by quarter waters and a bag of chips at 11:36 AM on August 16, 2007

Amtrak may not be exactly the most customer-friendly organization in the world, and it's not like they run on-time...ever, but I'll take them over flying commercial any day of the week.

Actually, I've found that if you're polite to the Amtrak conductors they're all genuinely friendly people. As long as you're not talking in the quiet car, which they enforce with an iron fist*, and for which they are my personal heroes.

You can get from Washington Union Station to Penn in under 3 hours on an Acela (theoretically, usually they run a little late), and that's downtown-to-downtown, no screwing around getting out to an airport, and no TSA rectal-probery. And you get a 120VAC power outlet. And if you want to stretch your legs, you can walk down to the snack car, grab yourself a beer, and watch the scenery** go by.

Actually, if you really want to live it up, if you can get on one of the Silver Star Service trains on the NE Corridor, you can eat an actual meal, instead of just snacks.

* Once saw them frogmarch some total bitch off the train because she wouldn't get off her cell phone in the quiet car. Made my and about 75 other people's day. Do not fuck with the quiet car.

** Not available in New Jersey
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:45 AM on August 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

I understand delays. I don't understand why they can not let you off the plane though. If there are no available jetways, can't they just pull up some portable stairs?
posted by DieHipsterDie at 11:56 AM on August 16, 2007

after taking amtrak i won't fly unless absolutely necessary. some trips i've been on, amtrak was one of the best parts. smoking car turned into a party a few times, coolers of beer, etc. the ladies bathrooms are spacious and great for joining the ten feet high club.
posted by andywolf at 12:09 PM on August 16, 2007

One of the worst delays of my life was on a train - we stopped in the middle of nowhere about three miles from the station - because the workers were union and couldn't work past a certain number of hours - because of a short delay earlier, they had hit that limit. The station sent buses to load up the workers who had worked too long, take them to the train station to trade them with fresh personnel, and drive back to us waiting so we could move again. Ever since then, never again for me with trains. That and the automatic extended travel times is insane.

But planes? Not if I can help it, like flying internationally. We drive, but the lack of oil in our future scares me.
posted by agregoli at 12:10 PM on August 16, 2007

ninjew writes "In this type of situation, I think I'd join in the revolt. But in the current state (of fear) we live in, I'd seriously wonder about the potential for meeting some fine employees of the DHS, or FBI, or whatever. As evidenced by the behavior of the authorities here, no one can take any sort of contrary behavior lightly anymore."

Maybe so, but I'm sick of being treated like a criminal for no good reason. At some point, a line is crossed and you have to insist on your rights and dignity being respected, or roll over and take it, and thereby allow it to get worse.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:15 PM on August 16, 2007

Anything less than 500-600 miles, I'll just drive. When you add up time spent getting to the airport, parking, hauling luggage, (remember, 2 hours before your flight time due to gate security) waiting at the gate/on the runway, it doesn't add up at all.

We went from Chicago to Duluth. My daughter and I drove-- 8 1/2 hours. My husband took a plane. 10 hours and 3 times the cost (we had to arrive on separate days).

Can anyone say high-speed rail?
posted by nax at 12:24 PM on August 16, 2007

A giant bronze statue of him with his suit jacket slung over his shoulder is the first thing that greets you when you clear TSA in the main Continental terminal.

Wow. What happened to waiting until people were dead to memorialize them? That's just crass.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:28 PM on August 16, 2007

On my first amtrack rail ride, the train arrived 2 hours late. On my 2nd, the train arrived 14 hours late.

Personally, 3 hours on a plane isn't that bad in my experience.
posted by Stynxno at 12:37 PM on August 16, 2007

enn, that link somehow kept me reading for the past two hours. I now know more than anybody need ever about the NYC subway.
posted by bonaldi at 12:44 PM on August 16, 2007

Trains aren't much of an option if you live on the west coast. Portland to Seattle is a reasonable 4 hour trip, but Portland to get to, say, Utah, would be about 30 hours involving transfers, assuming that the train is even remotely on time (which it rarely is between Portland and Sacramento), and assuming that the ticket is the cheapest coach they sell, costs the same as a discount airline ticket for a flight that would take all of 4 hours from leaving the house to leaving the SLC airport. Even with a few hours delay tacked on, that's a pretty easy choice to make.

But sweet jesus, I'd rather bathe in a septic tank than deal with Air France employees during a flight cancellation ever again.
posted by cmonkey at 12:45 PM on August 16, 2007

One problem is that "pushback" counts as a depart, thus, if you push back and sit for two hours, that's an on time departure.

Problem two: Non refundable tickets. If they push back, you've departed. If the plane then comes back, you're tick is a no-travel, and you are now fully refundable. If they sit for six hours then fly you, no refund.

The answers here are very, very simple.

1) Don't track departures, track on time arrivals.
2) Departure is redefined as wheels up, because airlines have abused door closed.
3) Arrival is defined as door open, not arrival at airport.
4) If departure time passes the published arrival time, any passenger should be allowed to leave the plane with a full refund. Better -- any on-ground, on-plane delay of over one hour should result in fines to the airline or refunds to the passengers.
posted by eriko at 12:57 PM on August 16, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'd caution against rail as an alternative to flight on the US west coast. I love rail travel, but Amtrak is in the unfortunate position of: a) operating on rails owned by freight companies, b) which exert ultimate control over priority and scheduling of trains.

I've heard that every time Amtrak amends their schedule to reflect reality, the freight company just delays Amtrak's trains by that much more.

I love US rail travel, but not as it's currently structured on the west coast.
posted by zippy at 12:57 PM on August 16, 2007

cortex: Related, via AskMe.
The great thing about that AskMe is that drstein was posting in that thread too, as a shill for the airlines.

Let us know how you spend your PR performance bonus this year, drstein!
posted by hincandenza at 1:33 PM on August 16, 2007

Holy shit.. I actually know that Caroline Murray lady who is quoted in the article. She is a kick ass community organizer from Mass. As a general rule, if you are going to screw over a group of people make sure one of them isnt a community organizer in the Alinksy tradition. (especially Caroline Murray)

Go Caroline! ADP!
posted by jlowen at 1:35 PM on August 16, 2007

Do not fuck with the quiet car.

That's right Bee-yatches. People have books they want to read and letters to write and socks to darn etc...

I took the train across the country from Portland, Oregon to New York City once in the early 90s. Sleeping was rough as you might imagine, but it was quite the odyssey. I met a load of cool people carrying on and drinking beer in the bar car (always amazing how easy it is to strike up a conversation anyplace outside NYC). Some tragic too. Sitting in the observation car I saw a big chunk of the country from the stunning snowy Rockies to the flat colorless plans of North (or was it South?) Dakota to the wall to wall green hills of Wisconsin.

Everything after Chicago was a corridor of rusted steel and and decaying industrialization. I usually like the faded that stuff, but after the pure open spaces of the west it felt shabby and cramped . But the last leg of the trip from Chicago to NYC was quick, just an overnight ride. It really put the hugeness of this country in perspective when you realize it takes four days on a train to get from the Pacific Northwest to Chicago, but one over night trip from there to NYC.

Anyhow, after reading this thread, I think my new guideline for taking the train is < 1000 miles.
posted by Skygazer at 1:43 PM on August 16, 2007

Flat colorless plains

faded quality of that stuff
posted by Skygazer at 1:49 PM on August 16, 2007

Anything less than 500-600 miles, I'll just drive.

Make that ~1000 miles for me, which puts me in range of most of the eastern half of the U.S. Even if it means I have to take a few days of vacation for business travel. (I'm going to San Francisco on business later this year, and it'll be the first time in about four years that I've flown at all. Wish me luck.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:50 PM on August 16, 2007

Can anyone say high-speed rail?

Not in Texas, unless you want 'em to call you a communiss.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:13 PM on August 16, 2007

1669 was a very good year.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:29 PM on August 16, 2007

Misery loves company: Singapore Air announces super-jumbo service will begin this October. Imagine the fun when you and almost 600 of your newest pals are trapped on one of these babies.
posted by rob511 at 4:08 PM on August 16, 2007

I haven't flown Continental in eight years...since one of their flight attendants kept giving liquor to an obnoxious drunk who decided to take the seat next to me midway through the flight.
posted by brujita at 7:33 PM on August 16, 2007

Now we see the REAL reason they stopped using real knives in first class.
posted by phonepimpster at 7:49 PM on August 16, 2007

Off topic: Can you think of any business that treats their customers with more sustained contempt than the airlines?
My apartment management.

I haven't flown that much. But I'll say one thing - my fear of the actual flying has pretty much been replaced by fear of having to deal with the other crap, from petty TSA goons in pre-boarding to horrid airline personnel post-boarding.

As for US train travel - doesn't Amtrak also have a fly/ride option for some vacation packages (train one way, plane the other)? Take the scenic, fun route going there and a (supposedly) quicker flight home.
posted by NorthernLite at 7:58 PM on August 16, 2007

Armitage Shanks writes "Let's roll!"

Someone has to start a rumour that long tarmac waits are part of a terrorist game plan. Therefor the only reasonable action is to storm the cockpi flight deck.
posted by Mitheral at 8:44 PM on August 16, 2007

Man, compared to the airline industry of you "developed folk" the rail service of us developing nations doesn't seem half bad. (Those people on the plane had much more patience than I would've.)
posted by hadjiboy at 8:51 PM on August 16, 2007

I reminded of the DailyShow clip of lawyers throwing rocks at police/soldiers. You don't really see that around here.
posted by Mitheral at 9:06 PM on August 16, 2007

Being stuck on the tarmac before takeoff would suck and I would be very upset.

But being stuff for 5 hours after landing? I think I would turn violent. I mean, all they have to do is open the damn door.

What is the least serious crime you can commit to be removed from a plane? Could I pull down my pants and be removed for indecent exposure?

It might be worth a $50 "disorderly conduct" misdemeanor charge. Have all the other passengers give you $20 to get the police to come throw you off the plane.

In fact, I'd go to trial and take my chances.

This WILL NOT CHANGE until the airlines are FORCED to change by the government.

eriko: is there someone I can talk to about having you appointed to the FAA?
posted by Ynoxas at 10:30 PM on August 16, 2007

Yeah, Amtrak really does suck everywhere but the East, or short-haul trips on the west coast.

Which is really too bad, because it is a great way to travel. I go back and forth between NYC and DC fairly often and I always take the train. It's city-to-city and (if you book Acela or schedule it right) you can spread out and use your laptop, or take a nap.

I do think that the train really comes into its own on a long trip, as in between NYC and Texas. It's a slow transition, rolling through cities and towns instead of zipping by on the interstate. (People still wave at the train!) Not to mention having breakfast with Girl Scouts from Georgia who warn you that people who wear black all the time are GANG MEMBERS!!!! and give you the run-down on all the two-faced girls at Marietta Elementary and sing you their favorite songs. Or buying way too many drinks for a sad wreck of an old man headed home to NC to bury his baby sister, and learning to play hearts. Or fucking for hours to that sway and syncopation. Or spending three days alone, staring out the window, wishing for the cigarette and dark lipstick and fabulous lighting.

The trick is, get a sleeper. Worth every penny.

Oh, sorry -- we're talking about planes, right?

I'm with Ynoxas -- eriko's recommendations are both productive and practical. They're also fairly obvious. (Not a slight to you, e. It's just not quantum physics.) So why aren't these improvements being enacted?

Also, I'm 5'2" and I can't sit comfortably in airline seats. How do the rest of you people tolerate it?
posted by vetiver at 5:03 PM on August 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

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