David R. Henderson  

Unintended Consequences, Chapter 4386

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In today's Wall Street Journal, travel reporter Scott McCartney has a story that is rife with unintended consequences of government policies. Titled "From Paradise to Hellish Hours on the Tarmac," it's a story about passengers kept on Delta flight #510 for hours. From start to finish, much of the problem appears to be the result of government policy.

Of course, the weather, which caused the problem in the first place, is not government policy. And so it's quite conceivable that a substantial part of the delay to the passengers was simply due to weather. Even here, however, remember who runs the air traffic control system--the federal government. Its technology is decades behind that of Canada, which has a quasi-private air traffic control that is highly efficient. ABC's John Stossel highlighted this system in a special a few years ago. Had the market been allowed to work in the United States, we likely would have such a system today. The result would probably have been that the airplane could have landed sooner.

The government caused unintended consequences in two other ways. First, the government has set limits on how long pilots can be in the cockpit and does not relax those limits in circumstances such as Delta's. McCartney writes:

On the ground in Columbia at 5:44 p.m., Flight 510's passengers were kept in the hot cabin for five hours without food while Delta's crew hoped to get clearance for the flight back to Atlanta. The jet was refueled and ready to go at 6:20 p.m., according to Gary Edwards, Delta's director of flight control, and given a takeoff time of 7:01 p.m. But a second wave of thunderstorms hit Atlanta, canceling that plan. A new takeoff time of 7:55 was issued, but the crew ran out of time under federal duty limits at 7:45 p.m.

So notice that three hours of their five hours was due to these federally set inflexible limits. It gets worse. McCartney writes:

It took more than two hours for federal, airport and airline officials to come up with a plan to get passengers off the plane. Because the flight was an international trip, people aboard needed to clear U.S. Customs and Immigration before they could be allowed freely into the terminal.

So add in one other inflexible organization: U.S. Customs and Immigration. The whole article is worth reading.


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CATEGORIES: Regulation



COMMENTS (3 to date)
ThomasL writes:

I remember back during the Katrina coverage I heard a reporter, recounting the difficulties of evacuees to Houston, say, "They can't even work," after which I was prepared for a tale of the physical injuries they had sustained. She continued, "They don't have their driver's licenses, or their Social Security cards."

Methinks writes:

Of course not, TomL. Why, undocumented workers might accidentally be hired and the world would end.

Chris writes:

Even here, however, remember who runs the air traffic control system--the federal government. Its technology is decades behind that of Canada, which has a quasi-private air traffic control that is highly efficient.

Isn't the U.S. air traffic control system part of the "infrastructure" that the stimulus bill is supposed to "invest" in? Yet as far as I can tell, no part of the so-called "stimulus" is dedicated to modernizing the air traffic control system. I have no doubt that even after all the stimulus money is spent, the air traffic control system will be just as outdated and flights will be just as delayed.

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