Sunk Costs: The Broken Iron Horse, Dead and Gone

a French tgv train engine In Europe and Japan, where they have spent and do spend a fraction of what we Americans have spent and do spend on transportation, they have fantastically fast, safe, pleasurable-to-ride, energy-efficient, and generally ever-improving modern railroads. We, of course, have the intentionally starved, dilapidated national embarrassment of Amtrak, plus the fantastically expensive, wasteful, and locally and geopolitically dangerous autos-über-alles system to which the iron horse was long ago sacrificed here.

Of course, another major marker of our overclass’s extreme hostility to sane transportation priorities is the airports-and-airplanes shuffle that (kind of) fills the gaps left by our scandalous lack of modern inter-city railroads. Like the dictated-from-above cars-first arrangement it (kind of) helps to patch up, that system is not only multiply and generally inferior to the rail systems they have built in Europe and Japan, but, being based on the burning of petroleum, is also under extra-severe stress these days.

It was in this light that James Howard Kunstler’s “Daily Grunt” caught my eye today. Here’s what Kunstler reports:

Death of the Airline Industry
I knew I was in trouble when I checked in and the Northwest departure board behind the ticket desk said the 5:39PM to Minneapolis was “delayed.” That’s when you know you’re in for an evening of, at least, being lied to and fucked around. Up at the gate, they let it be known that the 5:39 would now leave at 6:08. That was cool. I had a two-hour layover in the Twin Cities for my connection to Duluth. As it happened, though, they didn’t board us until 6:00. We pushed back at 6:30, taxied out to the runway, and then sat there for another hour. About halfway through that wait, the pilot got on the PA and said they were “waiting for their numbers.” A half hour later he came back on the PA and said the plane was “over its weight limit” and we had to go back to the gate and drop some people off. Huh…? This was a small regional jet. There were 12 rows of two across, and there were a few empty seats. So, we get back to the gate and we sit there for another half hour while a technician comes on board with a clipboard and palavers with the flight crew. It’s now two hours past the original schduled departure time. So even if we left that instant, I’d miss my connection to Duluth and be stuck in the Minneapolis airport all night. As it happened, the pilot asked for 13 volunteers to get off the plane. (There was some grumbling about the obvious illogic of a plane designed with 48 seats being unable to carry 36 passengers… but let’s not even go there….) If they couldn’t get 13 volunteers, the pilot said, they’d cancel the whole flight (and then everybody would be fucked, I inferred). I got up with a bunch of other volunteers — thirteen, finally — and straggled off the plane. We hung around the gate for another hour and half waiting to get re-booked for tomorrow, and to get our gate-checked luggage back. The most amazing thing about the whole misadventure is how dim the Northwest employees acted. From the flight crew to the gate agent, nobody really seemed to know what was going on or know what they were doing. I actually don’t know if the plane ever did leave. It was still parked at the gate when I finally left the airport at 9:30. By the time I got home it was 10:00 PM. I have to get up at 3:30AM to make a 6:00AM flight tomorrow. (Sigh….)

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